Gregory Desilet: The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life

The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life Book Cover The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life
Gregory Desilet
McFarland
2023
Paperback
219

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ACHE Chapter of the Society for the History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

Gregory Desilet plunges his readers into a hypothetical debate between the early Jacques Derrida, especially of the ’sixties and ’sevembeenties, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, mainly of the ’thirties and ’forties. It is a debate that seeks comparable concerns with language, meaning, and metaphysics by both intellectuals before pursuing significant contrasts between them. For all his interests in theories of communication and rhetoric, Desilet avoids the vagaries of thematic adaptations or rejections of decontextualised, often provocative statements by paying closer attention to published and unpublished writings emanating from the above-mentioned decades.

The Enigma of Meaning is divided into three main parts preceded by “The Life of Signs” (5-12) and succeeded by “The Signs of Life” (161-177). The first part (14-81) comprises six chapters centred upon Derrida’s response to Wittgenstein on the role and significance of mind, use, interpretation, rules, limits and justification. The second part (84-107) devotes three chapters to contrasting terms informing Wittgenstein and Derrida, specifically public and private, family resemblance and dissemination, and games and “economies” (or degrees of predictability) respectively. Chapter by chapter the third part (110-160) explores both thinkers on five central philosophical themes: other minds, metaphysics, time, truth, and “violence” (introduced by the selective categories of language).

Desilet’s ultimate aim is to view Wittgenstein and Derrida despite their differences as not confronting us with a choice between their respective accounts of language, between their “metaphors of the tool and the trace” (169). Such a choice “refuses to reduce to either/or as it continually slips into both/and” (169-170). Why? Because the “nature of language as a tool changes when supplemented with the … trace” (176). Why, in turn, should this be?  Because the “trace changes the essence of the tool by placing it within a temporal, moving context” and by doing so “the tool’s identity becomes mobile and divided as it acquires aspects from every new context through which it is used” (176). The mutual “entanglement” between trace and tool leads Desilet to declare:

Wittgenstein without Derrida can make language appear misleadingly whole. And yet Derrida without Wittgenstein can make language appear misleadingly broken. Wittgenstein calls forth Derrida, not as opponent but as supplement, drawing out the both-and/neither-nor complementarity of difference. (177)

This review essay on The Enigma of Meaning will initially pursue two complementary points of view regarding a pivotal argument exploited by Derrida without which readers unfamiliar with him could quickly lose their moorings. Next, we shall briefly focus upon the twelfth chapter on time; temporality for Derrida being so crucial to comprehending not only experience but also the nature and role of “the trace.” At the same time, our first three sections shall incorporate passing references to the early transcendentally weighted phenomenological stance taken by Edmund Husserl. In our fourth and final section, we shall examine two alternative approaches to understanding Wittgenstein that appear not to have been fully recognised by Desilet. The first draws upon a student of Husserl, Helmuth Plessner, and the second, upon another interpretation of Wittgenstein misconstrued by Peter Hacker which Desilet omits in his appendix (179-189) devoted to the latter. Considering such alternatives is warranted by a volume that could well become the standard defence for upholding how Derrida’s contribution “to understanding the complexities of language” explicitly “emerges with a metaphysical depth beyond the positions Wittgenstein occupies” (177).

I

Beneath the wealth of topics probed by Desilet’s monograph lies a pivotal line of argument deployed by Derrida which can be construed from at least two perspectives. We shall call the first point of view verbalizable experience and the second revisable binaries or hierarchies. Applied rigorously, both undermine any philosophical attempt to uphold if not access reality, be it questioning “What is …?” (119) in the case of essential meanings and phenomena or first principles and conditions. Let us begin, albeit briefly, with the first perspective.

Desilet’s eleventh chapter takes Derrida’s La Voix et le Phénomène (in the 1973 David Allison translation rather than the 2011 Leonard Lawlor one) as exemplifying Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological avoidance of the question “What is a sign?” However, as quickly becomes apparent, Husserl’s avoidance is quite unlike that in Wittgenstein’s 1933/1934 notes popularly known as the Blue Book (or the Nachlass Ts-309):

If we say thinking is essentially operating with signs, the first question you might ask is: “What are signs?” – Instead of giving any kind of general answer to this question, I shall propose … to look closely at particular cases which we should call “operating with signs.” (16; Ts-309, 26)

Husserl in his First Investigation of Logische Untersuchungen, by contrast, seizes upon a “twofold sense” of the term “sign” which can apply to an experiential “indication” (Anzeigen) and a semantic “expression” (Ausdrücke) (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §§1-16).  Its twofold character need not exclude the possibility that the one sign can convey both aspects. For instance, “signal” may indicate the event or occurrence of conveying an utterance as well as the expression of the meaning of an utterance. Does the same apply to the use of idioms popularly thought to distinguish one language from another? However, to adapt an example from Lawlor (2021, §2, para 3), idioms can confront us with distinct meanings even within the one language without identifying the experience undergone and without ensuring which meaning might act as the actual or essential, proper or true one:

After Héloïse overheard her studious brother Hugues muttering “Il y va d’un certain pas,” she wondered whether he meant “One goes there at a certain pace or with a certain step” or “What’s at issue is a certain kind of ‘not’ or negativity.”

As Derrida (1967) insists, indicative and expressive signs whether idiomatic or not prove to be “a difference more functional than substantial” since they are “signifying relations, not terms” (p. 20; cf. p. 37). This is because the same phenomenon can be apprehended as an expression or indication, “a discursive or nondiscursive sign,” depending upon “the intentional experience [vécu intentionnel] which animates it” (p. 20). Although Husserl regards communication itself as “a stratum extrinsic to expression,” “each time an expression is in fact produced, it communicates, even if it is not exhausted in that communicative role” (p. 20). Furthermore, in Derrida’s terms, “the discursive sign, and consequently the meaning, is always involved, always caught up in [or “contaminated” with] an indicative system” of sounds, marks, and so forth, although “the reverse … is not true” (pp. 20 & 21). Husserl himself (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §1) concedes the expressive and the indicative are “always interwoven (verflochten),” yet “must not …cut off the possibility of a rigorous distinction of essence” (p. 20). However, as Derrida (1967) asserts, this appeal to what is the essential is at best discoverable through and relies upon “the possibility of language” (p. 21); an assertion reminiscent of Wittgenstein (1945, §§371 & 373): “Essence [Wesen] is expressed in grammar” and “Grammar tells us what kind of object anything is.” Moreover, claims Derrida, the “entanglement” of the expressive and the indicative is “always produced” in mutual discourse or actual conversation for two reasons. Firstly, “expression indicates a content forever hidden from … the lived experience of another” (1967, p. 22). Secondly, “the ideal content of the meaning” has been attributed by Husserl to “sensibility”; his phenomenological project having already committed itself to “intentional consciousness” only becoming “revealed … in the reduction of the totality of the existing world in general” (p. 22) (see, e.g., Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. 1, Ch. 8, §49).

II

So far, Derrida has set the scene for detecting “entanglement” or “contamination” as the norm for all communicative acts which Desilet connects to Derrida’s “law of contamination” where, although “oppositional relations do not dissolve oppositions and thereby do not support the use of terms without their antitheses, they nevertheless alter the structure of oppositions by way of supplementation to the structure” (126). The first perspective we labelled verbalizable experience above now begins to be re-enforced by the second one labelled revisable binaries or hierarchies.

Desilet next focuses upon Derrida’s 1966 Baltimore lecture, “Structure, Sign, and Play…” which sees Derrida (by way of Claude Lévi-Strauss) indirectly pursuing the intersection of signifier and signified propounded by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Although de Saussure, unlike Derrida, gives priority to speech (la parole) against the derivative standing of writing (l’écriture), both he and Derrida argue that a sign in sheer isolation cannot signify: it can only do so in relation to other signs. To that extent, the basically syntagmatic and syntactic sequential arrangement of individual signs in intersection with the largely semantic and phonic open-ended association of other signs (see, e.g., de Saussure, 1922, Part 2, Ch. 5 & 6) seems to imply the systemic, self-referential nature of language (la langue). For both theorists, the detectable patterns language incorporates indisputably points to its capacity for repetition. As we find Derrida declaring, “A sign which would take place but ‘once’ would not be a sign” because as an “event” it would “mean an irreplaceable and irreversible empirical particular” (1967, p. 50). He then concludes,

A signifier (in general) must be formally recognizable in spite of, and through, the diversity of empirical characteristics which may modify it. It must remain the same,  and be able to be repeated as such, despite and across deformations which the empirical event necessarily makes it undergo …. But it can function as a sign, and in general as a language, only if a formal identity enables it to be issued again and to be recognized. This identity is necessarily ideal. (1967, p. 50)

Why does Desilet focus upon the Baltimore lecture? Because it illustrates the oppositional relationship between signifier and signified of the sign itself to the point of modelling “the structure of every opposition” (127). To cite Derrida himself on the paradoxical consequences of attempting “the metaphysical reduction of the sign” which “needed the opposition it was reducing”: “The opposition is systematic with the reduction. And what we are saying here about the sign can be extended to all the concepts and all the sentences of metaphysics, in particular to the discourse of structure” granted that there were and still are “several ways of being caught in this circle” (1966, p. 281). Without the opposition between signifier and signified, there can be no sign; without the sign, there can be no discourse, leaving Desilet to elaborate that the

nature of the particular oppositional structure between the signifier and the signified is … complementary such that the signifier and the signified form a system where one cannot exist without the other and each cannot be reduced to the other without effectively destroying the system, without destroying the sign and its functionality. (127; cf. Derrida, 1967, p. 51)

Furthermore, he continues, the “logic of opposition … posits no pure instance of either pole of the opposition” which, in turn, implies that “every presumed singular identity contains the seed of its other within its essence” (128). Even casual occasions can reveal how postulating, say, a hierarchy of culture over nature is by virtue of their binary interdependences always revisable:

When Héloïse began teasing Hugues by saying, “Culture can always destroy nature,” he immediately retorted, “Yet without nature there can be no culture.”

At this juncture, we shall leave aside the transcendental and eidetic reductions comprising the phenomenological reduction characterising Husserl’s project pursued by Derrida and succinctly summarised by Desilet (e.g., 121). Nonetheless, readers may well question why Desilet’s eleventh chapter does not overtly confront the accusation notably raised by Martin Dillon (1995) that Derrida remains guilty of assuming another kind of reduction. In effect, this suggests that both Husserl and Derrida exploit a methodology of reduction. According to Dillon, Derrida employs a methodology of “semiological reduction,” one which involves an “ontological bifurcation which sets language in a realm apart from perception and denies reality” to the “world as perceived” because it is “displaced by the world as inscribed in language” (1995, p. 100). (Here, Derrida, as previously discussed, disputes the realm of indicative signs which, even in moments of self-directed monologues according to Husserl’s First Investigation of Logische Untersuchungen, are communicatively prelinguistic because “we live in the experience of the object” (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §8).) Alternatively expressed, Dillon regards semiological reduction as “driven by an argument based on the transcendental function of signifiers” (1995, pp. 19 & 35). Why? Because cognition if not consciousness “presupposes identification which presupposes a formal ideality,” be it a concept, an essence, or a signifier (p. 19). As Dillon warns his readers from the outset of his monograph, a semiological reduction appears to beg two questions. One is “the question of the re-identification of signifiers themselves” and the other is “the question of how the play of signifiers temporalizes and makes history possible” (p. 13).

Before briefly turning to Derrida on temporality in our next section, what follows were Desilet to accept Dillon’s critique? Would he need to concede the degree to which “intentional consciousness” implies that there is an experience of something? By so doing, would he also need to concede that the experiencing subject need not be entirely removed from the “world as perceived,” from the community of persons, especially when the expressive, as distinct from indicative signs visible in nature, “extends beyond mere indication in its capacity to communicate meaning from one subject to another by means of a system of exchange … organized through structure (grammar, syntax) and categories (meaning, concepts)” (120)?

III

For those still searching for a singular absolute transcending all possible oppositional relationships, not only must they transcend the signifier-signified nexus of language but the quest for absolute unity also needs “the absence of time” (131). Returning to the “most disconcerting” First Investigation of Husserl’s phenomenological project, according to Derrida (1967, p. 56), particularly where the temporality of experience is juxtaposed with deictic or indexical expressions such as “I” and “now” which “shift with the occasion” of their utterance, they also have a fixed meaning such as “the person currently speaking” and “the present time” respectively. Yet, semantically speaking, as Husserl realises, shifting and fixed meanings cannot be invariably substituted for each other in all circumstances (Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. 2, Ch. 3, esp. §26). Derrida criticizes the conflation of “pure ideality” with temporality in Husserl which “signifies the certainty, itself ideal and absolute, that the universal form of all experience (Erlebnis), and therefore of all life, has always been and will always be the present” (1967, p. 53). On the contrary, suggests Derrida, “The I am, being experienced only as an I am present, itself presupposes the relationship with presence in general, with being as presence. The appearing of the I to itself in the I am is thus originally a relation with its own possible disappearance. Therefore, I am originally means I am mortal” (1967, p. 54). Whether such an original meaning holds in indexical or deictic cases—for example, Hugues’ present statement (to Héloïse’s query “Are you there”?) “I am there,” let alone the past “I was there” and the future “I will be there”—remains open to debate.

Given that time and experience are interwoven, it is commonly understood that every experience occurs in present time, in the “now.” Although what happens now is a distinct event different from any other we have ever experienced, yet, in the present, we can recollect the recently past and/or anticipate what is about to happen. Because what we experience now can be immediately recalled, it is repeatedly re-identifiable, such repeatability enabling us to anticipate the same thing happening again. Hence, from Derrida’s perspective, what is happening now also does not differ from every other “now” experienced. In other words, the present experience is both an event and, owing to its repeatability, not an event. Consequently, we cannot have experience in time that does not contain both event and repeatability.

Derrida’s argumentative trajectory ultimately carries the same kind of implication for time as it does for language. Experience of the present (“now”) is not simply reducible to a single experience of something present to us because it contains the re-iteration of what has passed, but no longer present, as well as what is about to occur, but not yet present. In brief, the present, to quote Lawlor (2021, §3, para 3), “is always complicated by non-presence.” This basic instance of repeatability residing in every experience is what Derrida (1967) calls “the trace” (e.g., pp. 67 & 85) which has already been implied in our previous section by the minimally re-identifiable signs of language itself.

Some readers may still have misgivings over a gap in Desilet’s treatment of re-identifiability. For example, how, in practice, does re-identifiability work when, say, Héloïse insists, “That’s my signature, Hermione”? If “signature” is in dispute, then Héloïse’s remark suggests that she is not only drawing a significant distinction between authenticity and forgery, but she is also appealing to her actual role in its inscription. Alternatively expressed, she has in effect adopted what Nelson Goodman explores as the “autographic” conditions for re-identifying her signature, whether she happened to etch or paint it, “if and only if even the most exact duplication of it does not thereby count as genuine” (1968, p. 113).  By contrast, if the sign in question is Héloïse’s above utterance in full, but now embedded within her draft playscript, performative instantiations of this playscript operate independently of its history of production. In this case, Goodman explores the sign as one of a set of complex “allographic” conditions for its (re)identification. Mistaking “what’s” for “that’s” and “bi-” for “my” in a misreading of the playscript by someone, say, an actor, director, or understudy, does not comply with the syntactic and semantic characteristics of its governing “notational” system. From a metalingual point of view, “What’s bi-signature, Hermione” has become a wh-question in the language system.

This and the previous section have concentrated upon Derrida and have particularly alluded to one of his better-known critiques of Husserl’s phenomenological project with which Desilet is obviously familiar. The next section shall shift the focus to alternative approaches to understanding Wittgenstein that appear not to have been fully recognised by Desilet notwithstanding his contention that

Both Wittgenstein and Derrida belong to metaphysical positions presenting forms of dualism, but Wittgenstein, despite his opposition to Cartesian mind/body dualism, still belongs more in the Cartesian modern tradition of oppositional structure whereas Derrida offers a genuinely different metaphysical alternative. (130)

The alternative, Desilet continues, lies in recognising oppositional relations “maximally anticipating the shifting ground of meaning under the influence of temporal succession and changing contextual boundaries” (138) irrespective of whether “temporal succession” is construed as temporal direction of past, present, and future, or as temporal order between earlier and later. Desilet then concludes:

For Wittgenstein, time affects everything, including language, but does so from the outside … For Derrida, time affects language, and everything else: without time there is no thing, no event, no position, no being—nothing. Time and space, time and matter, time and being—these oppositions name a complementarity such that each does not exist without the other. (138-139)

IV

When Wittgenstein contrasts what “behaves like a human being” with a stone or a corpse, he simultaneously raises the question of “how can a body have a mind?” (1945, §§283-284). According to Desilet, this “positions human beings as mind/bodies embedded within the world and community” before making any inferences about “the separation of mind and body” (117). So, let us begin somewhat indirectly at first by recounting the way in which Peter Hacker and colleagues interrogate the longstanding binary distinction between mind and body, between mental and physical phenomena.

Maxwell Bennett and Hacker (2003, e.g., pp. 72-74, 103-106) claim that past and present followers of René Descartes are guilty of committing the mereological or part-whole fallacy. The fallacy is traceable within, for example, Part One of Descartes’ Les Passions de l’âme where the passion of the soul is a mental state or thought which directly results from the activity of the brain that causes us to act. However, that body and mind, or that which has spatial extension and that which has not, can causally interact remains puzzling. After all, as Harry Smit and Hacker (2014, pp. 1080 & 1084) argue, conceptually speaking because “the mind is not an entity of any kind,” the mind having “a relation to the brain” simply does not apply and “makes no sense,” although the brain’s neuronal activities are “a causal condition,” a precondition, for, say, our capacities for remembering, rehearsing, and reciting things. Hacker and his co-authors consequently cleave to Wittgenstein’s contention that an “‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria” (1945, §580). In his 1949 “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment,” Wittgenstein separates the criteria demonstrating someone’s capacity and “the criteria for ‘inner states’”: “Even if someone had a particular ability only when, and only as long as, he [or she] had a particular feeling, the feeling would not be the ability” (vi, §36).

Equally puzzling for Hacker and colleagues is that the mind and/or the brain is predicated as having psychological attributes which belong to the person as a whole. This, in effect, upends the former conception of person in which the psukhē (commonly but misleadingly translated as “soul”) was reconfigured. To quote an earlier article by Bennett and Hacker, the psukhē is no longer construed “as the principle of life, but as the principle of thought or consciousness” (2002, p. 12). After noting that Aristoteles upheld “the principle that only living beings have a psuchē,” Smit and Hacker (2014, p. 1091) describe the psukhē, by contrast with Cartesian conceptions of mind, as “a biological principle.” By identifying psukhē solely with the thinking mind (res cogitans), its other functions as enumerated by Aristoteles were frequently reclassified by Cartesian adherents as material or bodily features (res extensa). Because Descartes conceives of thinking as awareness or consciousness, thinking therefore comprises volitional, ratiocinative, and imaginative powers as well as sensory apprehensions ranging from perceptions to passions. In the first book of the Peri psukhës (On the Soul), we find Aristoteles articulating the conceptual conflation in question:

We speak of the soul [psukhē] as being pained or pleased, being bold or fearful, being angry, perceiving, thinking …. Yet to say that it is the soul which is angry is as if we were to say that it is the soul that weaves or builds houses. It is doubtless better to avoid saying that the soul pities or learns or thinks, and rather to say that it is the man who does this. (408b, 11-15)

It is a conceptual confusion which, outside “secondary” uses typical of child-play, Wittgenstein also depicts by virtue of our enactive and verbal interchanges as follows: “only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious” (1945, §§282 & 281).

On reviewing Hacker and his co-authors, Jasper van Buuren (2016, pp. 226-227) questions what they understand by the mereological relationship between brain and person and between mind and person. To contend, following van Buuren, that Hugues’ brain is part of Hugues suggests that it is not part of the person Hugues so much as part of the person Hugues’ body. In other words, Hugues not only has a body of a particular size and weight which includes mouth and hands, lungs and brain, blood and bones, but he also is and, so to speak, lives through his body. Again, the person Hugues, whilst he continues to live, has a mind, a mind which can be said to belong to him. What the foregoing omits is that Smit and Hacker distinguish the concept of a person and that of a human. Whereas a human is a “rational, language-using” creature with “powers of intellect and will,” a person “is not a substance but a status concept,” a creature “capable of participating in a culture” and assuming “moral agency and responsibility” (2014, pp. 1092-1093 passim). Furthermore, Smit and Hacker warn us against conflating two senses of the human body, namely, “the body (the living organism) that a human being is with the body (the somatic features) that a human being has” (2014, p. 1083). That Bennett and Hacker elsewhere conceded that they are primarily concerned with “human beings qua possessors of those characteristics that render them persons” so that the brain “would be part of the human being” not the person leaves van Buuren unconvinced (2016, p. 226). Without considering whether mental properties might supervene upon physical ones (see, e.g., Robert Francescotti (c.2009)), van Buuren surmises, “Even if the mind is not literally a ‘part’ of the person, there must be some kind of mereological relationship between person and mind” (2016, p. 227). However, given Bennett and Hacker’s appeal to the unifying role of the psukhē “as that which encompasses and transcends the opposition between the mental and the physical,” then how, van Buuren asks, do they explain a person as both a physical and mental being whilst being “encompassed” by that which is “not reducible to the physical or mental” (2016, p. 228)?

In the apparent absence of an answer to this question, van Buuren looks to a student of Husserl whose philosophical anthropological theory has gained increasing interdisciplinary attention (see, e.g., Shawn Loht (2020) in this Journal). Drawing upon the largely non-Cartesian anthropological theory of Helmuth Plessner (1928) regarding “levels of organic life,” van Buuren argues that Hacker has overlooked the “threefold structure” of “our bodily existence” in the world (2016, p. 230). Baldly summarised, at an objective “level” (die Stufe des Objekts), our physical bodies are, firstly, “things among other things in the world” as are plants despite their variability (2016, p. 230). Secondly, at a subjective “level” (die Stufe des Subjekts), each organic body is “a center of sensorimotor activity” in the sense of being “open to the world” in a manner befitting most animals (2016, p. 230). Thirdly, from a positional or perspectival “level” (technically called exzentrische Positionalität), humans are distinctively “at a distance to both the body as object and the body as subject” because generally “we can always distance ourselves from any relationship we have to ourselves or the world” including other persons (2016, p. 230).

For readers more familiar with Wittgenstein, the positional capacity for distancing oneself in order to make connections, perceive relationships, resolve disparities, and the like complements his “concept of a surveyable representation [übersichtliche Darstellung]” which “characterizes the way we present things, how we look at matters” (1945, §122). Surveyability equally underpins Wittgenstein’s dual methodological attention that subsequently comes to the fore upon the interpretive role of interlocutors’ beliefs and upon logico-syntactic rules (1945, §§185ff.). Desilet’s initial focus, it is worth noting, centres upon the latter (45ff. & 179ff.) before summarising others’ arguments for the former (48ff. & 181-186 passim). For Wittgenstein in a critique not unlike Derrida’s, the distortion of surveyability emerges when “the question of the essence” of phenomena, be it thinking or language, feeling or literature “sees the essence of things not as something that already lies open to view, and that becomes surveyable through a process of ordering, but as something that lies beneath the surface” which somehow “an analysis is supposed to unearth” and where the answer claims “to be given once for all, and independently of any future experience” (1945, §92).

However, as Beth Savickey (2014) cogently argues, the foregoing translation of übersichtliche Darstellung endorsed by Hacker is highly contestable. She has at least two reasons, the first concerning the very phrase and the second concerning the Philosophische Untersuchungen itself. Translations of Űbersichtlichekeit are not merely “surveyability” or “overview,” but possibly more so “clarity” or “perspicuity,” “plainness” or “transparency” (2014, pp. 101-102). Similarly, not only “representation,” but also “account,” “depiction” or “portrayal” can translate Darstellung (2014, p. 112). For Hacker, Savickey continues, “the central preoccupation of the Investigations is the nature of language”; for Wittgenstein “it is life (i.e. all the expressions of life in language)” making a “representation of life … inherently dynamic” (2014, pp. 111-112). As Wittgenstein himself pointedly remarks, “Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life? – In use it lives. Is it there that it has living breath within it? – Or is the use its breath?” (1945, §432). Further elaboration can readily be found in Wittgenstein’s Zettel, including, for example, how “to explain our understanding of a gesture by means of a translation into words” and vice versa (1948, §227). This then elicits the remark:

How can these gestures, this way of holding the hand, this picture, be the wish that such and such were the case? It is nothing more than a hand over a table and there it is, alone and without a sense. Like a single bit of scenery from the production of a play, which has been left by itself in a room. It had life only in the play. (1948, §238).

In fact, the Zettel constantly applies other examples of understanding wrought by übersichtliche Darstellung to the arts, especially music and poetry (1948, §§155-176).

Now, let us return to Plessner’s tripartite approach as summarised by van Buuren. It ultimately reveals the limits of the mereological fallacy employed by Hacker and colleagues. Owing to the positional or perspectival capacity to “distance from our relationship to the external world,” we can focus upon “an inner world” and “a social world” in mediated rather than immediate, idealised rather than perceptual ways, a focus conducted as mental thinking rather than as embodied processing (2016, p. 232). Moreover, the above-mentioned subjective and objective senses of the body in effect are dual “aspects of the one and same body” without necessarily implying that one sense is reducible to the other (2016, p. 234). That Héloïse, for example, has a brain and two hands is one way of classifying parts of her body. However, brains are not perceived, possessed, or deployed in the way hands are. Why? Because, as van Buuren succinctly contends, “our hands are part of our first-person world” whose bodily appearance has “immediate practical” meaning when feeling, gathering, moving, touching, and so forth (2016, pp. 234 & 238). However, the “appearance of the brain,” which fulfils its complex functions independently of us, “presupposes the third-person perspective of science” (2016, p. 234). If the foregoing account holds, then Hacker’s mereological accusation falls short. According to van Buuren, it needs to differentiate between two different kinds of part-whole relationships in terms of parts and aspects, namely, that “between a part of the body and the body as a whole” and that “between a partial aspect of our bodily existence and this existence as a whole, whereby the whole is the person” (2016, p. 237).

In conclusion, Desilet’s volume extolling the “metaphysical depth” achieved by Derrida in comprehending “the complexities of language” beyond the logico-linguistic explorations of them by Wittgenstein (177) demands our attention. Nonetheless, one might wonder whether both philosophers were aiming at the same metaphysical trajectory with greater or lesser success. Those sympathetic to Desilet’s conclusion may well question how to determine what counts as “the same” here. Of course, none of us can definitively determine, to echo Bernard Williams,

what counts—what will have counted—as going on in the same … way. Nothing can do that, finally, except the future itself. The Last Word, as always, will lie with what actually comes about. (1998, p. 44)

References

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Bennett, Maxwell and Peter Hacker. 2002. “The Motor System in Neuroscience: A History and Analysis of Conceptual Developments,” Progress in Neurobiology 67(1): 1-52.

——-. 2003. “The Mereological Fallacy in Neuroscience.” In Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, 68-107. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Derrida, Jacques. 1966. “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” In Writing and Difference / L’Écriture et la Différence. Translated by Alan Bass, 278-293. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.

——-. 1967. “Speech and Phenomena: Introduction to the Problem of Signs in Husserl’s Phenomenology.” In Speech and Phenomena: And Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs / La Voix et le Phénomène. Translated by D.B. Allison, 1-104. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

Descartes, René. 1649. The Passions of the soul / Les Passions de l’âme. In The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff & Dugald Murdoch, Vol. 1, 325-404. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Dillon, Martin. 1995. Semiological Reduction: A Critique of the Deconstructionist Movement in Postmodern Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Francescotti, Robert. c2009. “Supervenience and Mind.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser & Bradley Dowden, at: https://iep.utm.edu/supermin/

Goodman, Nelson. 1968, “Art and Authenticity.” In Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols, 99-124. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co.

Hacker, Peter. 2005. “Surveyability and Surveyable Representation (§122).” In Gordon Baker and Peter Hacker, Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning, 2nd edn., 307-334. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Husserl, Edmund. 1900 & 1901. Logische Untersuchungen / Logical Investigations. Edited by Dermot Moran; translated by J.N. Findlay [second 1913 edn.; two volumes]. London & New York: Routledge, 2001.

Lawlor, Leonard. 2021. “Jacques Derrida.” In Stanford Encyclopedoa of Philosophy. Edited by E.N. Zalta, 27 August, at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/derrida/

Loht, Shawn. 2020. “Helmut Plessner: Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology,” Phenomenological Reviews 6, at: https://reviews.ophen.org/2020/12/27/helmuth-plessner-levels-of-organic-life-and-the-human-an-introduction-to-philosophical-anthropology/?lang=fr

Plessner, Helmuth. 1928. “The Sphere of the Human.” In Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology / Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch. Einleitung in die philosophische Anthropologie [2nd 1965 edn.]. Translated by Millay Hyatt, 267-322. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1922. Course in General Linguistics / Cours de linguistique générale, 2nd edn. Edited by Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye & Albert Reidlinger; translated & annotated by Roy Harris. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., 1983.

Savickey, Beth. 2014. “Wittgenstein and Hacker: Űbersichtliche Darstellung,” Nordic Wittgenstein Review 3(2): 99-123.

Smit, Harry and Peter Hacker. 2014. “Seven Misconceptions About the Mereological Fallacy: A Compilation for the Perplexed,” Erkenntnis 79(5): 1077-1097.

van Buuren, Jasper. 2016. “The Philosophical-Anthropological Foundations of Bennett and Hacker’s Critique of Neuroscience,” Continental Philosophical Review 49(2): 223-241.

Williams, Bernard. 1998. “The End of Explanation,” The New York Review of Books 45(18): 40-44.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1933/1934. Blue Book. In Preliminary Studies for the “Philosophical Investigations”: Generally known as The Blue and Brown Books, 2nd edn. Edited by Rush Rhees, 1-74. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1964 [= Der Nachlass Ts-309, at: https://www.wittgensteinproject.org › w › index.php?title=Blue_Book ].

——-. 1945. Philosophische Untersuchungen / Philosophical Investigations, 4th rev. edn. Edited by P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte; translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

——-. 1948. Zettel. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright; translated by G.E.M Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967.

——-. 1949. “Philosophie der Psychologie – Ein Fragment / Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment.” In Philosophische Untersuchungen / Philosophical Investigations, 4th rev. edn. Edited by P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte; translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte, 183-243. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Joseph Rivera, Joseph O’Leary (Eds.): Theological Fringes of Phenomenology, Routledge, 2023

Theological Fringes of Phenomenology Book Cover Theological Fringes of Phenomenology
Joseph Rivera, Joseph O'Leary (Eds.)
Routledge
2023
Paperback
260

Hernán Gabriel Inverso, Alexander Schnell (Hrsg.): Crisis and Lifeworld: New Phenomenological Perspectives, Karl ALber, 2023

Crisis and Lifeworld: New Phenomenological Perspectives Book Cover Crisis and Lifeworld: New Phenomenological Perspectives
Phänomenologie (Band 35)
Herausgegeben von Hernán Gabriel Inverso, Alexander Schnell
Karl Alber
2023
Paperback 59,00 €
230

Wouter Kusters: A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking

A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking Book Cover A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking
Wouter Kusters. Translated by Nancy Forest-Flier
The MIT Press
2020
Hardback $39.95
768

Reviewed by: Thomas Froy

Wouter Kusters’ ‘Philosophy of Madness’ is difficult to classify. This is probably the point. This enormous work – the full text reaches 738 pages – draws from sources diverse as Plotinus, Sartre, Eastern mysticism, personal testimonies, free associative prose and more; some canonical, some obscure, some empirical, some fictional. It’s difficult, too, among this mass of material, to discern the author’s intentions. Kusters states his explicit intentions quite often, but these statements often contradict each other, remain unfulfilled and unexplained. Gradually, what becomes clear, however – and this is perhaps the overarching theme of the book – is that Kusters’ doesn’t want to be classified.

Insofar as the author and his work reject classification, this book positions itself in a certain post-Foucauldian, anti-psychiatric tradition, which includes figures such as R.D Laing and Thoms Szaz. Psychiatry, writes Kusters, is largely “unable or unwilling to understand madness … [psychiatrists] hold it in contempt or even fear it while at the same time boasting about their “expertise” because they are thought to be able to explain or effectively subdue it” (Kusters 2020: 64). The inability or unwillingness to understand madness which Kusters identifies in psychiatrists and the psychiatric tradition as a whole is thus counterposed to the author’s own comprehensive and emancipatory ambitions: at one point, Kusters writes that the book aims to “alleviate psychosis and emancipate the psychotic person from medical classifications” (Ibid., xv). This work thus shares with many others in the anti-psychiatric genre an allegiance to what might be considered the more Romantic aspects of Foucault’s early work on madness: philosophy and madness are uniquely positioned to emancipate each other from their institutional imprisonments.

Kusters subject, then, is madness, and his aim is emancipation. ‘Madness’ is a rough translation of the Dutch ‘waanzin’; Kusters’ previous works include (as yet untranslated) Pure waanzin (2013) which recounts his personal experiences of psychosis, episodes to which he returns frequently, both as source for philosophical reflection and direct citation (Kusters is no stranger to self-citation, including sizeable passages from previous work, semi-fictional prose and passages which appear to be expressions of his own paranoid fears). Philosophy, for Kusters, is uniquely positioned to gain insights into the experience of madness, and madness into philosophy. The book can thus be understood as a dialogue between madness and reason, in which both slowly unwind and unhinge the other. The process of unwinding and unhinging will gradually lead each toward emancipation from their origins toward freedom.

The opposition between madness and reason – as well as his emancipatory aspirations – does not, however, lead Kusters to a confrontation with the concerns raised, about Foucault’s work, by Jacques Derrida. ‘Cogito and the History of Madness’ (Derrida: 1978), an essay originally delivered as a lecture, warns that any author, including Foucault, who aspires to emancipation from their chains risks reinterning the mad in the institution of philosophy. Already 60 years ago, then, the difficulties associated with semi-Romantic aspirations toward emancipation from the institution of psychiatry have been available to the reader, and presumably to Kusters himself. The consequence of Derrida’s confrontation with Foucault, consequently, are that if Kusters sets his sights on liberation from the prison of psychiatry – with its associated “medical jargon … supposedly objective labels and descriptions, and behind risk management, fear, and attitudes” (xvi) – he will have to be cautious not to reproduce that other trick of reconfinement. Emancipation demands, on the one hand, a rigorous distinction between, on the one hand, the domain from which the emancipated will escape (psychiatry) and on the other hand, the domain into which the mad will arrive. If no rigorous distinction is established, it may remain unclear whether liberation has occurred, and where the liberated find themselves as a result. Consequently, the risk is that madness may be liberated from psychiatry, but reinterned with philosophy.

Indeed, Kusters constructs a yawning chasm between the domains of madness and philosophy. “Madness is kept out of bounds as a nadir of meaninglessness, a breeding ground for unreal apparitions, chimeras, and sham” (2). However, this chasm does not present any obstacles to repeated definitions, in highly philosophical terms, of the essence of madness. On the contrary, despite Kusters’ repeated and clearly stated opposition to psychiatric definitions of madness, he displays no aversion to a philosophical classification of madness: psychosis is defined as “the desire for “the desire for infinity and absolute freedom” (xvii); madness is the experience of “trying to resolve the most fundamental questions of existence but in an uncontrolled, wildly associative way. You want to know what it’s all about, what good and evil are, what is at the very heart of existence: you want to know the meaning of life and the cosmos” (xxiii), and so on.

Not only does this appear to be in contradiction with the author’s stated opposition to classificatory jargon, but also with his declaration that he does not intend to contribute to classifications of madness (4). Since Kusters does not engage – at least, not explicitly – with the concerns Derrida raises about emancipatory critiques of institutions, it’s difficult to know where Kusters stands. It appears that he takes no issue with liberating madness from psychiatric definitions by means of firmly subjecting madness to philosophical definitions. As such, it remains, from start to finish, difficult – mystifying, perhaps maddeningly so – to divine precisely what Kusters’ aim – in terms of method or subject matter – might be.

This mad road is trod by a series of associations or identifications between philosophical notions and Kusters ideas about madness. For the most part, these associations are drawn from canonical works of Western philosophy – Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre – and form the comparative structure of the book. Oppositions and comparisons are drawn from a huge number of texts in order to define, describe, and refine Kusters idea of the relation between madness and philosophy. The discourse is highly conceptual, dealing primarily with time and space. Aristotelian time, for example, is considered exemplary of the ‘normal’ attitude and can be juxtaposed with “mad crystal time”: normal time is chronological, while mad time might be circular, or perhaps everything happens at once (89-105). Although he states, early on, that madness and philosophy have appeared as each other’s enemies (p2), this does not mean that they cannot speak to each other, and inform our understanding of both; Aristotle may represent a spokesperson of normal experience at one point, and then an exemplar of insanity at another. As the book progresses, Kusters writes, oppositions will collapse and contradictions will multiply meaning that the reader will be “seduced seduced into identifying even more with the madman and letting himself be transported down a ‘stream’ of madness” (18).

In Part One, Kusters’ comparisons are most commonly within in the phenomenological tradition. Chapters One and Two give describe normal and mad experiences of perception, with citations drawn primarily from Edmund Husserl’s The Phenomenology of Internal-Time Consciousness. Beginning with what Kusters takes to be a Husserlian phenomenological description of experience, the normal perception of time can be characterized as Aristotelian – continuous – while the mad experience of time is circular (45-52). Chapters Three and Four subsequently develop phenomenologies of space and time, citing Husserl, Paul Ricoeur’s notion of ‘static time’ (94-6), as well as Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of schizophrenia (98). Rather than subject each citation to analysis, Kusters’ approach is closer to compilation: long passages are introduced with a brief remark indicating that the text is ‘another example of’ of Kusters’ theory of madness, and rarely followed with any interpretation. Husserl, Ricoeur and Merleau-Ponty are not subjected to interpretation or criticism, but rather contribute insights to the growing understanding of madness. Given this lack critical engagement, it’s difficult to discern Kusters’ own understanding of these texts. The specific texts are not selected for any stated reason, other than the evocation of a certain phenomenological experience: Kusters frequently introduces texts by describing them as “examples” of the conceptual terms or neologisms which characterize madness.

Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological work is given slightly less attention, and this represents something of a missed opportunity. Insofar as the assumption that phenomenological analysis of a subject’s experience can give us insight into their world is one of the key – if unstated – presuppositions of Kusters’ interest in phenomenology, the lack of engagement with Heidegger’s thinking is a shortcoming. Contemporary thinkers, such as Havi Carel, draw extensively from Heidegger’s rethinking of the spatio-temporal essence of being in order to give a clear picture of the situation and experience of an ill person (Carel 2016). Kusters’ constructions of a series of oppositions and comparisons between normal and abnormal experiences precisely mirrors the work done by post-Heideggerian phenomenologists, especially those working on the experience of mental and physical illnesses.

Part II – Chapters Five to Eight – shifts away from, without leaving, the explicitly phenomenological discourse toward Kusters’ interest in mysticism. Mystical experiences, he argues, are highly comparable with experiences of insanity, insofar as both provide an escape from the normal experience of the world. To some extent, Part II is continuous with Part I: those abnormal perceptions evoked by phenomenology are described more richly in Kusters’ selections from the mystical tradition; the experience of time, for example, may not only become non-continuous but also more intense. Kusters names four processes – ‘Detachment’, ‘Demagination’, ‘Dethinking’, ‘Delanguization’ – in which mysticism can lead the reader further along the path of madness. Here, Kusters draws most consistently from Plotinus: various long passages are drawn from his corpus and cited as instances of each process. Again, Kusters leaves Plotinus’ words largely unexamined, preferring to compile texts rather than subject them to analysis.

In Part III, Kusters describes a series of delusions: ‘The Uni-Delusion’, ‘The Esse-Delusion’, ‘The Ω-Delusion’ and ‘The Ø-Delusion’. Like the mystic processes, the removal of delusions will open the door and lead the reader down the path of madness. The ‘opening door’ motif, an explicit reference to Aldous Huxley’s writings on psychedelia, chimes with the earlier engagement with phenomenology: the experience of madness expands and reformulates our understanding in the world by breaking through the normal limits and parameters of thought. In this part of the book, the content shifts from canonical philosophy toward logical paradoxes, reflections on LSD, and extracts from fictional works. Kusters describes his process as being increasingly illogical, both in terms of content and form; the gradual destructuration and unravelling should mirror the experience of going mad.

Part IV extends Part III’s interest in paradoxes, aiming to cement Kusters’ idea that the process of philosophizing – be it about space and time, or the prisoner’s dilemma, or nothing at all – may lead the philosopher into madness. In this regard, Part IV is continuous with the previous parts of the book, insofar as the style is consistently compilatory. A number of the same ideas reappear in each part – madness, perception, space, time – but Kusters does not construct a theory of any of these; he merely cites, compares and collects interesting insights into various aspects of what he considers to be madness. On the one hand, this is clearly deliberate and fulfils his refusal to produce a systematic classification of psychosis; on the other hand, compilatory theory does not clearly present the author’s own position. The enormous range of sources are merely included within the ever expanding portrait of madness: the pieces collect without anything resembling structural relation or connection. The consequence of this is that the reader rarely gets Kusters’ own perspective: canonical texts – Plato, Descartes, Sartre, Husserl – are cited at length and pass without comment. Many readers will already be familiar with this works, and less familiar with Kusters’ own thinking: ‘A Philosophy of Madness’ is generous in material, less so when it comes to the author’s actual perspective, ideas, or interpretations of these widely-read traditional texts.

With this in mind, Part IV represents a substantial step within the work’s development: as noted above, Kusters remains highly elusive – perhaps difficult – in submitting to a simple characterization of his intentions. In addition, although the Chapters interweave and interconnect in both style and content, Kusters rarely gives any sense that his theory is building toward any conclusion or system. Chapter 14’s reading of Charles Taylor’s work – specifically the opposition between the bordered and the porous self – substantially revises this non-systematic approach. The compilatory method remains – Taylor’s thinking is merely another example – but Taylor’s thinking on reenchantment radically reorients the purpose of the book. ‘A Philosophy of Madness’ clearly signals its disinterest in contributing to a classificatory theory of madness, and Chapter 14 is consistent with this insofar as, at this late stage, it suddenly becomes clear that Kusters is writing a book about enchantment.

The portrait of madness Kusters presents is so unsystematic and incoherent – I believe, deliberately so – it’s difficult to think that his intention is to present anything like a new understanding of madness. Instead, ‘madness’ – and all the processes and experiences which come along with it – is a placename for reenchantment. Kusters collects and compares a huge range of oppositions between normal and abnormal experiences: madness represents an opportunity to be led out of our compartmentalized, limited, singular selves into a new understanding of the world and our place in it. Becoming mad opens the self to a massively enriched and enhanced relationship with worldly phenomena, as well as new possibilities for different and rewarding interactions with everything around about.

Kusters introduces Taylor’s porous self – open and in dialogue with the world outside – as a comparative example with madness, and in this regard, makes explicit the analogy between going mad and reenchantment. However, Kusters does not suggest that this is the comparison which should frame the work. Like Taylor, Kusters sees the contemporary world as a difficult and unwelcoming world, unwilling to accept the insights (even the existence) of the mad enchanters.  Yet the advantages of living as a Taylorian porous self are numerous and many are shared with the madman: the world becomes infused with numerous and diverse meanings (531); greater intimacy with one’s feelings (534-5); greater receptivity (547), and so on.

Despite the apparent proximity of identity between the mad and the enchanted, Kusters does not dwell on this, nor does he explicitly outline what I understand to be the essential affinity described between the processes of madness and of reenchantment. ‘A Philosophy of Madness’ frequently returns to its disinterest in classification, systematicity and structure; it is possible, however, that this lack of focus may prevent the reader from recognizing some of the greater themes and purposes of the book. I suggest, in light of this, that interpreting Kusters’ thinking on madness as a longer meditation on the possibilities of what might be ‘mad enchantment’ may grant some thematic coherence to the work without sacrificing the stated desire for chaos, contradiction and confusion.

‘A Philosophy of Madness’ presents the reader with some difficulties. Although Kusters’ work is at home in the anti-psychiatric tradition – and Kusters asserts his devotion to the anti-psychiatric field vocally and repeatedly – this opposition is never substantiated. Kusters does not engage, at any length, with psychiatric literature or the history of psychiatry; he writes that his previous work – the as yet untranslated ‘Pure Madness’ – produced a comparison between his own experience of psychosis and the psychiatric reports written on him. There is no confrontation with the medical tradition, with medical professionals, the history of medicine and its relation with psychiatry, or with psychiatric institutions. Such a confrontation would give greater clarity to Kusters’ understanding of psychiatry, what it is, what its aims are, its limitations, and so on; the reader might also get a clearer picture of Kusters’ consideration of the possibilities and dangers associated with liberating the mad from the domain of psychiatry in order to reintern them within philosophy. Perhaps the matter – namely, of psychiatry as an institution, historical phenomenon, contemporary political entity and all those who work within it – is considered settled. Perhaps the translation of ‘Pure Madness’ will grant the English reader greater access to Kusters’ engagement with psychiatry, but until then, the detail is lacking.

In addition, Kusters does not make any engagement with the contemporary young but fast growing field of critical disability studies. Like the anti-psychiatry movement, scholars and thinkers in this field owe a substantial debt to Foucault’s work on institutions as well as a deep suspicion of those who want the ‘cure’ the sick and mad; furthermore, analyses of chronic pain , psychopathy, long-term illnesses and so on share a great many of the concerns and ideas raised in Kusters thinking; finally, many scholars – like Kusters – turn to the phenomenological tradition in order to understand the spatio-temporal qualities of being disabled. Kusters decision not to find points of dialogue with this field represents a missed opportunity.

Finally, Kusters’ decisions with regard to the structure are problematic. The overview presented above is accurate with regard to the theoretical content of the book; however, through a series of ‘Overtures’, ‘Intermezzos’ and interstitial passages apparently reflecting Kusters’ own mental state. The Overture and Intermezzos largely function as introductory and concluding remarks, describing the plan for the work and the relation between different sections. Kusters prose is highly expressive, ironic and rhetorical; for different readers, this may be amusing, witty, or a little bit irritating. But it is the interstitial passages, found especially in the early parts of the book, which are difficult to read. It appears that they function as literal representations of the paranoid fears of a person experiencing psychopathy.

Besides questions of structure, the Intermezzos also contribute an extremely strange first personal account, in which the writer – perhaps Kusters himself, perhaps not – describes, in direct prose, his everyday life in Amsterdam, meeting up with friends, driving around, spending time alone. The writing is frenzied, sometimes fearful, sometimes ecstatic, often difficult to understand or make sense of. It’s difficult to say what the fragments are – Kusters doesn’t introduce or reflect upon them. Most significant, and troubling, however, is that they are occasionally shockingly racist. While reflecting on languages, the author muses “Yiddish is a kind of basic Esperanto, just like Jews are the people without a country and without an identity” (119). This thought isn’t introduced – there’s no context – nor interpreted or analysed – there’s no explanation. It’s not clear what its purpose, meaning or significance is. Why are the Jews a people without a country? What does it mean to be a people? What is it to have a country? Does lacking a country mean lacking an identity? No context, no analysis. A few lines later, writing from the perspective of ‘the Jews’, Kusters writes “We watch over the system behind the system. We’re the backup, the fourth empire” (Ibid.,). Again, no context or explanation; merely, the introduction of classical anti-Semitism as a passing phrase.

A few pages on, Kusters writes “The ones who always do it right are the Holocaust deniers. And they’re still at it. As soon as you start tampering with Auschwitz, they throw you in the madhouse. But that’s where the Enlightened Ones live, those who haven’t been able to keep their big mouths shut. Of course there was no Holocaust!”. Kusters doesn’t direct these racist remarks toward any other ethnic minorities, nor does he return to them at any other point. Does Kusters mean to be ironic, or funny? Should these remarks frame Kusters’ opposition to institutions, or even the book a as a whole? Should they be ignored? It’s not at all clear what purpose these passages serve, if any.

Kusters’ compilatory method is perhaps the defining feature of ‘A Philosophy of Madness’. It’s possible – perhaps preferable – to understand the decision not to subject any of the his interlocutors to sustained or detailed analysis as being consistent with his stated opposition to systematicity and classification. Perhaps this is the right decision: for readers less familiar with the canonical works of European philosophy, this book functions as a useful introduction to texts from Plato, Descartes, Husserl, Sartre and more. Kusters sets his course firmly in the direction of madness, and this colossal book – just short of 800 pages, in all – is by no means a strict, disciplined work of theory. Instead, it’s pure, philosophical chaos.

The reader should not approach ‘A Philosophy of Madness’ with the expectation of finding a contribution to our understanding of what it feels like to experience psychosis, or periods of mental ill health; nor, a close reading or interpretation of a number of texts from the phenomenological tradition, mysticism or the fictional and real writings of ‘the mad’. Instead, Kusters’ presents the reader with a mass of text which, without ever coming together in any moment, points the reader toward possibilities: possibilities for reflection and reconsideration on one’s place in the world. Madness might be ecstatic, joyous, terrifying, upsetting and scary; it might be a normal way to live in a strange world. It might also be an opportunity to approach one’s life and the people in it with a new sense of enchantment. An off-kilter perspective, to be sure, but one filled with madness and magic.

Works Cited:

Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. University of Chicago Press.

Kusters, Wouter. 2020. A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking. MIT Press.

Rodney K. B. Parker (Ed.): The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics

The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics Book Cover The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics
Contributions to Phenomenology
Rodney K. B. Parker (Ed.)
Springer
Hardback, $119.99 USD; eBook, $89.00 USD
IX, 311

Reviewed by: Ryan Dradzynski

The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics is a multifaceted exploration of the historical context and ongoing influence of various epistemological, ontological, and methodological approaches to the problems of consciousness and reality. Part of Springer’s long-running Contributions to Phenomenology series, the essays in this collection complicate the conventional picture of idealist and realist phenomenology as two homogenous and warring camps through a number of close readings and re-interpretations of figures from this formative period of phenomenology.

In his introduction, editor Rodney K. B. Parker outlines two goals: first, to return Husserl’s early phenomenology to its historical context (4) and, second, “to understand the positions of the other early phenomenologists with respect to the idealism-realism debate.” (4) This is more than scholarly trivia. By drawing parallels between the idealism-realism debate of the early twentieth century and the current rivalry between phenomenology and speculative realism, (6) Parker makes a convincing case for the continued study of figures who left an indelible mark on the phenomenological landscape but for whom sustained engagement—especially in anglophone philosophy—has been elusive.

The structure of the work itself bolsters this conviction. Instead of a linear, chronological approach, the collection is divided into four sections. The two essays in the Part I provide background on Husserl’s philosophical development with a focus on his Logical Investigations. By dissecting the way his early work may have been interpreted as realist, they lay the foundation for the following chapters, the majority of which examine the philosophical conflict which erupted after the publication of Ideas I in 1913. Yet while there is a noticeable sense of progression, the collection withstands the procrustean temptation to place Husserl’s work on a rigid teleological timeline. Instead of proceeding chronologically, the collection revolves geographically around the loose constellation of philosophical schools that sprang up in Marburg (Part II), Munich (III), and Gottingen and Freiburg (IV).

By framing the idealism-realism debate around geography, which is necessarily imprecise and ambiguous, the contributors successfully tease out similarities and differences between positions and philosophers that have been historically understudied. Essays on Baltic, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese—as well as several female—philosophers serve to emphasize phenomenology’s cross-cultural appeal and socially inclusive character.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the portrait of Husserl offered by the collection is more of a mosaic than a picture. Yet it is not less useful for that. On the contrary, the variegated portrayal of Husserl challenges the conventional picture of the idealism-realism debate as a contest between two static, monolithic, and fundamentally hostile camps; readers receive a clear sense of the fluctuating philosophical milieu which phenomenology developed in and deeply influenced. Husserl’s philosophical positions and appropriations thereof were neither foregone conclusions nor incidental to phenomenology today. This volume sheds welcome light on a crucial and underappreciated period in philosophy.

This review largely follows the structure of the work, beginning with the introduction from the editor and reconstructing the arguments in the foundational first chapter on Husserl’s Logical Investigations before devoting the rest of the space—unfortunately not exhaustively—to several individual essays from the collection which serve as conceptual lodestones for thinkers and topics discussed elsewhere in the work.

Parker’s introduction clarifies the broad historical and philosophical context in which the idealism-realism debate among early phenomenologists arose. The core of the controversy centers on two distinct but closely related issues: first, “whether the ‘real’ world exists independent from the mind” (8) and second, whether the belief that the only object of knowledge is one’s subjective consciousness—epistemological idealism—necessarily entails metaphysical realism, or the belief “that nothing exists independently of the mind.” (6) Husserl’s early thought was characterized by a form of realism similar to Brentano’s descriptive psychology. However, after sustained engagement with Kant and disenchantment with psychologism, “Husserl’s project moved away from the descriptive psychology of the Logical Investigations and the account of intentionality presented therein toward a form of transcendental idealism.” (2) The position at which Husserl arrived, transcendental-phenomenological idealism, which “seeks to reconcile the empirical reality of the world with the dependence of that reality on consciousness,” (3) came as an unpleasant surprise to many of his followers and leading philosophical figures of the time.

Michele Averchi puts it succinctly in his article on Geiger: “We must ask ourselves: is Geiger’s reaction to Ideas I only worth exploring for the sake of historical completeness? Or does it contain some developed and original contribution to phenomenological thought?” (175)

The same could be asked, some may say, of Husserl—to say nothing of his less-famous interlocutors. Parker—and the work as a whole—is emphatic: Husserl and his fellow twentieth-century philosophers not only have much to contribute to contemporary debate today, but from a historical perspective, “if Husserl’s critics misunderstood his position, particularly with respect to idealism, then it is incumbent on Husserl scholars to clearly articulate how.” (12)

The two essays in Part I explore the intellectual heritage, Platonic underpinnings, and realist receptions and misconceptions of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. While both Fisette and Crespo conclude that a realist interpretation of Husserl is untenable, they also show that such an understanding is not historically inapposite.

Programs such as Fisette’s are normally nebulous, hinging on specious chronologies and dubious speculation. Fisette avoids these fatal pitfalls by staying scrupulously close to textual evidence, from Husserl’s correspondence and marginal notes (39) to the admittedly more ambiguous influence betrayed by the content of his work from that period. The centerpiece of Fisette’s essay is the close reading he performs on Husserl’s unpublished manuscript Mikrokosmos, which was itself a meticulous explication of Lotze’s Logic and was intended by Husserl to be published as an appendix to his Logical Investigations.

Fisette begins his robust intellectual genealogy of Husserl’s early philosophy by tracing the outline of Lotze’s influence. Though Lotze died in 1881, Fisette argues that he influenced Husserl in two ways: directly, through his work, and indirectly, through his students. Stumpf, for example, under whose tutelage Husserl completed his dissertation and habilitation (31), was a student of Lotze’s, as was Frege, whose withering critique of the ostensible psychologism contained in Husserl’s Philosophy of Arithmetic is often regarded as having provided the impetus for the anti-psychologism of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. This last point is particularly important, because Fisette attributes to Lotze, by way of Brentano and Stumpf, a good deal of credit for inspiring Husserl’s theory of relations as contained in his Philosophy of Arithmetic. (35, 40)

While he deplored Lotze’s “arguably strange view that arithmetic is only a relatively independent and since ancient times particularly sophisticated part of logic,” (38) in Mikrokosmos Husserl nevertheless “attributes to Lotze the merit of having stressed the decisive significance of the distinction between the subjective aspects of thought and the objective aspects of its propositional contents.” (39) In a letter to Brentano, Husserl declared that it was thanks to Lotze’s interpretation of Plato’s theory of Ideas (38) that he was able to articulate an understanding of consciousness as intentionally directed yet noetically distinct from both the subject and content of thought.

This is not to say Husserl blithely internalized Lotzean assumptions. On the contrary, he was deeply critical of Lotze. Husserl was dissatisfied with the descriptive approach inherited from Lotze, which rendered him unable to explain the mysteriously objective quality of subjective experience except by recourse to an empirical explanation. Since he received from Lotze no means by which to engage the transcendent qualities of consciousness without either immanentizing or mechanizing them, Husserl developed a critique of psychologism based on the ideality and objectivity of the laws of logic which he conceived in terms of Geltung and effectivity (Wirklichkeit). (40, 43)

Unlike Lotze, who muddled the division between the quality of judgment and “the propositional content of judgment” (42), Husserl argued that the meaning we intersubjectively imbue objects with is the basis for the existence of those objects independent of any mind. Far worse, according to Husserl, was the fact that Lotze distinguished “a representational world (Vorstellungswelt), which has merely human-subjective validity, from a metaphysical world of monads in-themselves” available only through ‘mysterious’ metaphysical methods, a situation Husserl dismissively called “inferior to novels.” (44) While in Husserl’s view it was perfectly valid to speak of logical laws as being ideal (47), he criticized psychologism for making that validity a function of psychological description and took pains to avoid the subjectivism to which Lotze fell victim when he created “a dependency between his Gedanken and the experiences of the knowing subject.” (43)

However, this leads to a problem: what exactly is being mediated if for Husserl “the function of the propositional content of a judgment is to mediate the relation of an act to its object”? (42) By strenuously opposing a Lotzean conception of ideality, Husserl inadvertently encouraged some interpreters to mistakenly impute to him a form of realism, as Mariano Crespo argues in the following chapter.

Analyzing the critiques of Spanish philosopher Antonio Millán-Puelles, Crespo suggests that in Husserl’s “effort to ground an autonomous logic freed from the threat of that particular form of empiricist phenomenalism that is logical psychologism, one can understand the initial impression of realism.” (56) Such an interpretation, Crespo suggests, turns on a failure to distinguish between the ontology of objects and the ontology of being.

Millán-Puelles makes his critique along three lines: first, “that the proof of ideality invoked by Husserl in the Second of his Logical Investigations is invalid” (57), second, that “conceiving the laws of logic as one conceives the laws of arithmetic” (64) leads to the mistaken belief that ‘universal natures’ correspond to ‘beings of reason’ (65), and, finally, the fact that Husserl transgresses the limits of phenomenology when he makes a jump “from the plane of propositions concerning universal objects to the ontological plane of ideal being.” (61)

These objections are made possible by the ambiguity that “for Husserl, universal objects present themselves, in their unity and ideal identity, in a special mode of consciousness.” (58) If phenomenology is the study of the structure and experience of consciousness, then by its very nature it privileges the operation of the mind over interaction with matter. Yet Husserl sometimes seems to assume the real, objective existence of objects, such as his defense of ideality in the Second Logical Investigation on the grounds that the objective existence of ideal objects presupposes the being of ideal objects. (62) For Millán-Puelles, there is little difference between the being of objects and their objective existence. More importantly, Millán-Puelles argued that “the use of terms such as “constitutive activity” or “genesis”…should not be interpreted in a psychologistic way, as though these objects remained absorbed by the reality of the mental processes they are made present by.” (55)

Like several critics covered elsewhere in the collection, Millán-Puelles focuses on ‘where’ or under what circumstances and conditions we ‘grasp’ ideal objects rather than considering their abstract nature. (58) This approach bears a certain resemblance to Husserl’s “phenomenological thesis of the constitution of objects present to consciousness.” (57) In effect, “Husserl’s defense of ideal beings would be more the affirmation of an unavoidable datum than the affirmation of a type or modality of being.” (66)

While Crespo ultimately considers Millán-Puelles’s realist critique to be based on a misunderstanding of “the distinction between the real genesis of the acts of the representation and the mere intentional genesis of irreal objects,” (68) Millán-Puelles’s work and interpretation of Husserl serve to clarify the plausibility of a realist interpretation and highlight persistent ambiguities in Husserl’s early phenomenological work, thereby setting the stage for parts II, III, and IV of the collection, which deal with the reception of Ideas I.

The two essays in Part II focus on the Marburg school, specifically Paul Natorp, Nicolai Hartmann, and Vasily Sesemann. However, after a minuscule sketch that frankly does not do justice to the essays of Part II, I am going to devote the next section and rest of the review to the first essay of Part III, which touches on several themes common to the collection as a whole.

Unlike those who focused on the theoretical underpinnings of Husserl’s phenomenology, Sesemann and Hartmann criticized Husserl for ignoring the importance of the practical context in which an actor’s intentionality is embedded. (114) Despite their differences, Jonkus points out that (somewhat like Millán-Puelles), Hartmann and Sesemann shared a conviction that Ideas I represented a return to idealism which elevated the experience of consciousness over the givenness of experience and thereby placed “the transcendent objects of the world…beyond the scope of phenomenological inquiry.” (113) It is this interplay of context, immanence, and intentionality that characterizes Susan Gottlöber’s essay on Max Scheler’s description of reality in terms of resistance. As a chronological outlier—the theories propounded by Scheler antedate but oppose the framework of Ideas I—her essay helps contextualize realist-inspired reactions to Husserl’s apparent turn toward idealism. Given the philosophical scope of Scheler’s critique, which encompassed methodology, epistemology, anthropology, psychology, and ontology, (122) Gottlöber’s essay also lends itself to comparisons with the critiques of other schools and thinkers discussed elsewhere in the collection.

According to Scheler, “consciousness is thus a necessary correlate of existence.”[1] (123) Moreover, “the experience of resistance necessarily precedes consciousness.” (126) Gottlöber reads Scheler, contra Dilthey, as viewing the experience of resistance not as a conscious action of the will but an unconscious and even inevitable product of the interaction between “involuntary (unwillkürlich) drives” and the external world (Außenwelt) (126). Placing the operation of these drives in a realm comprised of the ‘spheres’ of personal perspective, perception of essences, the natural environment, and communal relationships (126-127) allows Scheler to “make an argument for both expanding the concept of reality beyond the external world…and, secondly, draw attention to the fact that the problem of the different spheres has to be treated separately from the problem of reality.” (127)

By focusing on the involuntary and experiential nature of existence, Scheler inverts the conventional idealist perspective of reality as a predicate of consciousness. Scheler’s approach bears a marked resemblance that of Hartmann (discussed by Jonkus), especially in their shared emphasis on how we are ‘grasped’ by objects. Like Scheler, “Hartmann argues for the priority of transcendent objects and focuses on ontology, which—for him—precedes epistemology.” (113) The ‘grasping’ nature of objects would become a crucial element in Scheler’s understanding of reality-as-resistance, and stands in stark contrast to Husserl’s approach, which privileged the objective and primordial purity of eidetic consciousness as well as the unitary nature of phenomenological methodology.

Gottlöber’s primary purpose in the essay, however, is to determine the extent to which Scheler successfully defended his assertion that being and essence do not, necessarily, entail questions of meaning, and the ramifications of his success (or lack thereof) for a realist rebuttal to Husserl. To do so Gottlöber focuses on the relationship between the drives and their connection to essence and meaning in Scheler’s posthumous 1928 essay Idealismus – Realismus. (121)

At first glance, creating ontological categories of ‘spheres’ and ‘drives’ seems misguided. Scheler himself conceded that an image theory of reality is indefensible, since claims that consciousness operates by corresponding to immanent objects “presupposes the cognition of both the image and the object as such.” (128) He also responded positively to Husserl’s claim that “what is not able to be effective is not real,” (128) which linked causality and reality in a formal relationship.

Yet Scheler felt, Gottlöber writes, that the “mistake made by both the idealists and the critical realists” was “the erroneous presupposition that essence and existence are inseparable from consciousness.” (131) Scheler attributes this misunderstanding to a mistaken belief that 1.) “all realities are unities of meaning” and 2.) that the experience of reality is meaningful in itself—that we do not experience objects, but meanings of objects. (130) In contrast, Scheler conceptualized reality as pre-given and meaningfully neutral resistance. He formulated the spheres as the manifold by which reality-as-resistance, through various attitudes of being, or drives, mediated meaning. In other words, “since resistance is accessible neither to consciousness nor to knowledge, but rather to the drives only, the relationship of the drives to resistance is not a relation to an essence (Sosein) or meaning (Sinn) but rather is characterized by being pre-conscious and pre-known.” (129) By denying reality innate meaning, Scheler “established a relationship between knowledge and consciousness on one side and the experience of resistance on the other without the latter being relativized in relation to the former…[R]esistance remains transcendental to consciousness at all times.” (130)

Yet such an interpretation entails several problems. One could ask, for example, how we know that resistance transcends consciousness. Or, if knowledge and meaning are formally extraneous to the experience of resistance, then how does consciousness arise and what are its qualities? (129) Scheler unpersuasively attempts to avoid an infinite regression by attributing “intentionality not to transcendental consciousness but to the experience of resistance with consequences for ‘ideal being’” (131) and reiterating the belief that “reality, rather than being constituted by consciousness, itself constitutes consciousness.” (131)

On one hand, Scheler’s interpretation is realistic insofar as it affirms reality to be a mutually constitutive process between consciousness and some external experience (in this case, resistance). However, by according consciousness a critical role in the instantiation of resistance by way of the spheres of experience, Scheler opens his arguments to accusations of question-begging and the very form of idealism he attempts to oppose. (As Gottlöber demonstrates in the chapter, Scheler’s conception of reality “is always transintelligible: only the what of existence is intelligible for us, never the existence of the what.” (131))

Despite these shortcomings, Scheler’s work—and Gottlöber’s analysis thereof—is valuable for the light it sheds on several realist critiques of transcendental phenomenology. For example, Scheler’s theorization of resistance as the ground of consciousness bears a striking resemblance to Hartmann’s realist and rhetorical comment wondering “Wo also ist das Phänomen des idealen Seins fassbar?”[2] That is, the grasping of reality—or in Scheler’s case, the experience of resistance—precludes a phenomenology of pure consciousness. Such an assumption is corroborated by Scheler’s comment to the effect that phenomenology is less a delimited science than a new philosophical attitude (121)—a belief that corresponds strikingly with D. R. Sobota’s analysis of Daubert, and more explicitly in Michele Averchi’s essay on Geiger’s philosophy of “attitudes” (Einstellungen) and “stance” (Haltung). (175) Given the multidisciplinary nature of Scheler’s work, Gottlöber’s essay on him serves as a historical lodestone for the other realist philosophers discussed in this collection.

Yet not all of Husserl’s critics attacked him for his apparent idealism; the final paper, by Genki Uemura, explores the reactions of Satomi Takahashi and Tomoo Otaka to Husserl’s Ideas I and their contention that he had tried—but not successfully managed—to escape a realist philosophy. By concluding this way, the collection has come full circle, from the ostensibly realist origins of Husserl’s phenomenology in the philosophy of Lotze, Stumpf and Brentano to accusations by his later students that he never developed a fully idealist position at all.

Though it focuses on the European context of the idealism-realism debate and does not delve into international appropriations or influence, this volume draws from a wealth of diverse thinkers and makes a historically rich and philosophically compelling argument for the enduring significance of the idealism-realism debate among Edmund Husserl’s early followers and critics.


[1] Scheler, Max. 1995. “Idealismus–Realismus.” In Gesammelte Werke, vol. IX, ed. by Manfred Frings, 183–340. Bonn: Bouvier (186).

[2] Hartmann, N. 1965. Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie. Vierte Auflage. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (22).

Hanne Jacobs (Ed.): The Husserlian Mind

The Husserlian Mind Book Cover The Husserlian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Hanne Jacobs (Ed.)
Routledge
2021
Hardback GBP £190.00
568

Reviewed by: Mitchell Atkinson III (IFiS PAN)

 

 Introduction

I am not aware of any recent collection of pieces by Husserl scholars that includes so many of the most important names in the field. Hanne Jacobs has demonstrated an astonishing prowess at organizing not only the material within the text but also in choosing and arranging contributors for this compilation. The book has, in its substance, aspirations to be the definitive introduction to Husserl—and by implication to phenomenological philosophy—in the English language. As philosophers and good critical readers, we must assess these aspirations in light of the works we already have while attempting to bring Husserl to a wider readership within and outside of the academy.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to examine for a moment the question why one makes such a fuss over Husserl in the first place. There has been a line of discussion in phenomenology, and several “post”-phenomenological disciplines, that makes of Husserl a sort of spastic Cartesian, chastised by Frege for psychologism, flailing ineffectually between an outdated dualism, an outdated essentialism, and a metaphysics he dare not name. This sort of dismissal can be found among so-called analytic as well as continental philosophers, although the level and volubility of the attack tends to differ between the schools. Strong phenomenologists have published doubts of central Husserlian notions, including essence and the epoche. Others have attempted to refine or expand Husserl’s work into new domains of human experience. Still others have attempted to use parts of the phenomenological method to deepen work in adjacent disciplines, most notably the social sciences, psychology, and cognitive science. But the question of Husserl’s value remains, nonetheless. We can ask ourselves, as Adorno’s imagined interlocutor says of Hegel, “Why should I be interested in this?”[1] Are there not many other philosophers, many other more contemporary dealers in concepts whose work will bring me closer to the intellectual promised land? The question is related intimately with the question why one does philosophy to begin with. The money’s no good and hardly anyone reads it. If J.K. Rowling or Stephen King wrote a text on transcendental epistemology, would anyone care to read it? Philosophers, as a group, have given weak answers to the question of the utility of philosophy. Socrates, in line 38a of Plato’s apology, famously says the unexamined life is not worth living. Wittgenstein seems to have thought sometimes that philosophy isn’t good for much at all. Philosophers like Schopenhauer see in philosophy the path to a kind of resignation to the dreariness of life. The existentialists give us angst and its attendant pleasures.  And what of Husserl? How would he answer this question? And might we, if we tease out a possible answer for him, not see something penetrating about what it is that Husserl has to offer us today?

One of the problems with trying to catch hold of Husserl’s motivations for doing his philosophy—and by extension what he thought philosophy could do—is that Husserl wrote so much that had implications for so many disciplines. One need only glance at the list of works in Husserliana to get a sense of the dizzying and perhaps dismaying depth of Husserl’s Nachlass. What this means in practice is that one must always interpret Husserl with a certain air of humility. It is always possible that a new page, maniacally scribbled over in his modified shorthand, will be discovered, and one’s prize interpretation will be sent to pot. This difficulty has been noted before, and it haunts all scholars who choose to tangle with prolific thinkers. There is always the threat of another level or dimension in the work which one has not quite reached, an aspect of the work which, having remained obscure to you for years, comes into focus just in time to obliterate the paper you’re currently writing. If our Husserl presents himself as such a bottomless pit of philosophical insight, perhaps the power of philosophy was for him also bottomless. In which case, the answer to the question, what for Husserl, can philosophy do? would be exceedingly simple: everything.

Now, invocations of “everything” are not so common in good philosophy without adequate justification, and we certainly have not yet provided it. Further, if we take a step back and examine our aims in this little review, we will find a much more satisfying route toward the answer that we seek. It is not an undifferentiated omnipotence that Husserl saw in philosophy. What is more differentiated than the work of Edmund Husserl? Rather it is a multifarious form of experiential description, questioning, analysis and elaboration—according to a sharply defined method—that he sees in philosophy. The value of the activity and method we’ll say ever-so-few words about at the end of this text.

In the meantime, it would be nice to get straight about what it is philosophy can do by Husserl’s lights. It so happens the book currently being reviewed is beautifully structured to do just that. Jacobs’ collection is divided into seven parts: (1) Major works, (2) Phenomenological method, (3) Phenomenology of consciousness, (4) Epistemology, (5) Ethics and social and political philosophy, (6) Philosophy of science, (7) Metaphysics. A naive interpretation of the structure of the book would be that Husserl’s thought fits comprehensively within these categories. To the extent that it does, we can say the book captures the Husserlian mind, thereby living up to its title. Where such a set of categories misses Husserl, where he slips away, may mark territory where this collection refuses to follow him.

Major Texts

The book appropriately opens with an overview of Husserl’s major texts. Pierre-Jean Renaudie writes on the Logical Investigations, Nicolas de Warren on Ideas I, Sara Heinämaa on the Cartesian Meditations, Mirja Hartimo on Formal and Transcendental Logic, and Dermot Moran on The Crisis. We can see the logic in this selection of texts. We begin with Husserl’s first mature philosophical book and end with his last one. We have the lynchpin of the transcendental turn in Ideas I. Sara Heinämaa writes persuasively on Husserl’s egology in the Cartesian Meditations, as well as helping us to contextualize the extent to which Husserl can be called a Cartesian. Heinämaa writes, “Husserl presents Descartes’ doubt as a great methodological innovation which provided the possibility of reforming all philosophy. However, he immediately points out Descartes made a series of fundamental mistakes that blocked the entry to the transcendental field that radicalized doubt laid open” (p. 41). Heinämaa shows that Husserl is a Cartesian in a rather qualified sense, in the sense of having received a limited inspiration in the theme of Cartesian skepticism. The themes in Descartes that are most commonly attacked, most notably a rather untenable mind-body dualism, are not at all operant features of Husserl’s mature philosophy. Nicolas de Warren, in his contribution, tells us something illuminating of Husserl’s approach to doing philosophy. The title of his piece, “If I am to call myself a philosopher,” refers to a line from a 1906 writing in which Husserl, characteristically, sets himself a task in order to gain philosophy as such. While de Warren’s contribution is eminently useful as an elucidation of difficult phenomenological concepts like noesis and noema, the natural and naturalistic attitudes, and many others, perhaps the greatest insight it provides is given in this short quotation. Still in 1906, Husserl was writing things like “If I am to be…” He had not, on some level, settled into an image of himself. Or perhaps better, he was still challenging himself to develop in order to match the philosophical aspirations he held so dear.

When setting out a philosopher as prolific as Husserl’s “major works,” there will necessarily be some difficult omissions. Here, one might like to see a chapter on either the Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis or Experience and Judgment. In that way, with one or both represented, the importance of the theme of genesis, the technique of genetic phenomenology all told, would receive a fuller exposition. No text as comprehensive as this one can possibly avoid the genetic theme altogether, but it would be helpful to see one of the major genetic texts included with the ”major works.”

Phenomenological Method

The second part of this book is, to my mind, the most important for young philosophers. The method of phenomenology must always be front and center because phenomenology is something philosophers do; it is not a list of conclusions other philosophers have already reached. Those who focus on and reiterate the method as Husserl’s major discovery enact a tradition of phenomenology that allows it to be a living, dynamic branch of philosophical practice as opposed to a stodgy cul-de-sac of philosophical history. In this collection, we have Dominique Pradelle discussing transcendental idealism, Andrea Staiti on the transcendental and the eidetic in Ideas I, Rochus Sowa on eidetic description, Jacob Rump on reduction and reflection, Jagna Brudzińska on the genetic turn, and Steven Crowell on Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Pradelle’s text is absolutely essential for unlocking the association between Kant and Husserl, and the ways in which Husserl suffers under the Kantian influence. An under-appreciation of the nuances in both thinkers might tempt us to characterize the phenomenological reduction as merely a restatement of Kant’s Copernican revolution. Such a reading would see the Kantian transcendental and the Husserlian transcendental as one and the same; their differences, as philosophers, would be relegated to style and method. Pradelle writes that for Husserl, “Kant discovers the region of pure consciousness or subjectivity, which is not intra-worldly but supra-worldly, which is not objective but constitutes all objectivity, and which is not inserted in the spatio-temporality or causality of the world but is fundamentally different from any worldly entity” (77). But for Husserl, as a central feature of his philosophy, the Kantian thing in itself is inimical to consciousness, a strange exteriority to conscious life that can’t, in the end, have anything whatsoever to do with a philosophy grounded in the transcendental as a method as well as a theme.

Rochus Sowa and Andrea Staiti together help us to clarify the eidetic method as we see it in Husserl. Sowa takes us from Husserl’s insistence that descriptions are facts, due to the factual nature of experience, to an analysis of Husserl’s descriptive eidetic laws which Husserl needs to motivate a view of phenomenology as general enough to undergird other forms of human enquiry. Key to this generality of application is the distinction between empirical concepts and pure descriptive concepts, the latter of which apply to possible or ”thinkable” objects and states of affairs irrespective of their empirical instantiation. Sowa also helps us to see that in eidetic work, the examples brought before the mind, whether objects in the world as experienced or possibilities in phantasy, are not the theme of the analysis; the examples are there to help guide us to an essential relation or an eidetic law. It is against such precise considerations that we can read Andrea Staiti’s contribution on the relation between eidetics and the transcendental. Staiti points to a tendency in the literature to treat the suspension of the being of the world as an instant path to essential description, as if all one had to do was dunk one’s head in the transcendental waters to see the colorful essential fish. This idea is sharply incongruous with Husserl’s work ethic, with his almost superhuman drive to add, distinguish, complexify. At the same time, those who acknowledge the need for eidetic work can draw too sharp a distinction between the transcendental and the eidetic, the implication being that we can pick one or the other to motivate our phenomenology. Staiti concludes that the eidetic and transcendental are “inextricably linked’ (96). Although this may sound obvious, it has implications. Perhaps most importantly, it places rigorous limitations on the degree to which phenomenologists are doing phenomenology when they engage in interdisciplinary work. On Staiti’s view, phenomenologists may have much to say about case-specific, empirically oriented studies in the human sciences but their properly phenomenological contributions will be bound by the transcendental and characterized by the eidetic.

Jagna Brudzinska gives us a penetrating overview of Husserl’s turn to a genetic phenomenology, a development in his thinking that is increasingly seen as crucial for understanding his later works. Brudzinska points out that even today many phenomenologists view the eidetic method as purely static. If phenomenology is meant to be anything like a theory of subjectivity, however, a static methodology is bound to be inadequate. The experience of the subject is dynamic, flowing, changing in our awareness of time’s passage. Brudzinska gives us a quick historical overview, making the claim that the importance of the genetic theme was there for Husserl as far back as the Logical Investigations. From there, Brudzinska develops the expansion of the field of inquiry that the genetic method achieves. She says, “In this context, it becomes possible to take into account not only present and immediately intuitive experiences. In addition to consciousness of the past we also gain the possibility to consider alien and future consciousnesses.” (132). Phenomenology needs this breadth of enquiry if it is to become the philosophy of subjectivity, for experiencing subjects are constituted and constituting in time.

Steven Crowell’s contribution is in many ways a commentary on the other pieces in the methodology section. His aim is to further clarify Husserl’s phenomenology by examining his notion of the transcendental and distinguishing it from Kant’s.

Phenomenology of Consciousness

Although the papers on method are some of the most important in this collection for young philosophers, part three, on consciousness, will no doubt be of interest to many seasoned Husserl researchers. Christopher Erhard introduces us to Husserlian intentionality by exploring three questions, why intentionality matters philosophically, what intentionality is, and finally what the lasting impact of intentionality is. He develops, through a reading motivated by a tight logical style, a view of Husserl’s idealism that shows its fundamental differences from both Kant and Berkeley. Maxime Doyan works through the normative turn in intentionality, citing a normative theme in Husserl’s studies of intentionality that is seldom observed. Doyan identifies the most important norms for this discussion as identity and recognition, identifying them with noema and noesis respectively. This allows a discussion of illusion and hallucination to unfold alongside a Husserlian rejection of the conjunctivist/disjunctivist distinction. Doyan here sides with Zahavi and Staiti, claiming that from the Husserlian view the question whether perceptions, illusions and hallucinations are the same kind of experience hardly makes sense at all.

Lanei Rodemeyer’s work on inner time consciousness is required reading for anyone attempting to understand Husserl and his place in the literature today. In her contribution here, she provides an overview of Husserl’s phenomenology of internal time consciousness, displaying as ever her unique pedagogical powers. She reiterates Husserl’s claim that the phenomenology of time is the most difficult of philosophical topics. Indeed, getting the phenomenology of time in a digestible package is difficult for various reasons. Husserl changed his mind concerning the structure of inner time consciousness in at least one major way and his ideas on time are scattered throughout his works. Rodemeyer treats us to a general introduction to the problem in Husserl, discusses the place of content in inner time consciousness and describes levels of constitution in Husserl. There are few practitioners in contemporary phenomenology as helpful in introducing the reader to Husserl’s work on temporalization.

Chad Kidd, in his contribution, seeks to rescue the theme of judgment from philosophical obscurity. His approach outlines Husserl’s theory of judgment while avoiding a reiteration of the commonplace debates concerning psychologism. Roberto Walton provides us with an excellently researched elaboration of Husserl’s work on language as a ground of the common world. Among the piece’s many useful contents, it stresses the distinction between Wittgenstein’s insistence on language as a “proto-phenomenon” and Husserl’s understanding of prelinguistic modes of consciousness that “condition the general structure of predicative statements” (255). Walton’s work sets the stage beautifully for Phillip Walshes’s text on other minds. Walsh is keenly aware that one of the most common charges against phenomenology is that of solipsism, or even more—Cartesian methodological solipsism. Walsh notes that the problem of intersubjectivity, of the constitution of the other in consciousness, is a fundamental phenomenological problem to which Husserl returned again and again. Zahavi’s chapter on three types of ego is the last in the section on consciousness. Because of Zahavi’s extraordinary precision as a scholar and reader of Husserl, his papers on changes to phenomenology, false starts and complete reversals, are incredibly valuable. Here, he unveils the steps Husserl took from an almost absolute disinterest in the ego concept to placing it so prominently in later works like the Cartesian Meditations. The chapter has extraordinary pedagogical value, not least because Zahavi synthesizes Husserl’s complex egology into the three phases given in the title while at the same time going painstakingly over the important details in the body of the text.

Epistemology

Clinton Tolley’s is the first paper on epistemology in Husserl. Here, he helps us understand Husserl’s project as a clarifying of cognition. This task is placed in a Kantian shadow that Husserl labored in throughout his career. Many of his pages were filled with responses to neo-Kantians like Natorp, Cohen, and Rickert. The chapter helps bring into focus the extent to which Kant’s preoccupation with (human) reason is taken up by Husserl. Walter Hopp begins his work with a nod to the challenge posed by the philosophical zombie. He develops an argument whereby we come to see the notion of unconscious intentionality as absurd on its face. Philipp Berghofer’s seeks to establish the sources of knowledge available in phenomenological work. He provides a typology of knowlege that includes types of object, experience, givenness and evidence. Using these categories, we can better understand the range of knowledges available to philosophical discussion. In John Drummond’s contribution, Husserl’s concept of objectivity is explored. Here, we begin by rejecting any reliance on either subjectivism or objectivism. If these categories, as naive theoretical types, are cast aside, the question of what it is to be an object for consciousness remains. Drummond motivates his discussion with what he calls putative and intersubjective objectivity. Hanne Jacobs, the editor of the volume, makes her contribution by discussing Husserl on epistemic agency. Jacobs uses a reading of Husserl to challenge deflationary accounts of epistemic agency, accounts that would minimize the role of our active participation in the formation of beliefs. Husserl’s emphasis on the centrality of attention in our holding of any proposition to be true as epistemic agents. Jacobs takes the reading of Husserl to the realm of personal responsibility, arguing that, for Husserl, one can be responsible not only for positively held beliefs but also for what one does not believe, doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know.

Ethics, Social, and Political Philosophy

The fifth division of the book collects chapters on ethics, social and political philosophy. One might fault this section for being a kind of grab bag of “social” topics, but in reading the chapters here, one sees how they are inter-related as levels of exploration of the intersubjective theme in Husserl’s phenomenology. Inga Romer imagines Husserl’s history of ethics as a battlefield, pitting reason and feeling against one another. Romer’s text is a deep resource for understanding the works in philosophical history that informed Husserl’s development as an ethical thinker. The chapter also lays bare a tension in Husserl’s sometimes stated aims with respect to formal and material axiology and praxis as a science of ethics and the view of ethics toward which his late phenomenology pulled him. Mariano Crespo situates Husserl’s ethics among his contemporaries, including Lipps, Pfänder and Geiger. In the discussion, Crespo uncovers insights related to live issues in phenomenology, including especially the need for a phenomenology of the will. Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl writes about evaluative experience in prose whose grace is a relief after many turgid lines. Rinofner-Kreidl reminds us that Husserl does not hold that evaluative experiences infringe upon our rationality. The axiology Husserl develops is nonetheless complex, involving top-down formal axiology and formal praxis with bottom-up descriptions of associated experiences. We are even given an analysis of Husserl’s Kaizo articles and a discussion of the complex late ethics, culminating in a teleological view that grants us a universalism, as it were, from within. Sophie Loidolt writes on the fragility of the personal project. Loidolt moves from Husserl’s claim in Ideas II that motivation is the “basic law that governs the life of the person” (393) to a discussion of various topics guiding the debate on personhood and practical agency in Husserlian phenomenology. We end up with the claim that the person for Husserl is not defined as an achieved unity; the person is rather a fragile potential unity, ever missing its ultimate aim. Indeed, Loidolt ends with the rumination that it may only be through the support of others that our fragile projects of personhood can be maintained. Sean Petranovich takes us through Husserl’s work on social groups, exploring Husserl’s mereological work to draw attention to Husserl’s relevance to contemporary discussions regarding mereology and the social. The final chapter in this section of the book is by Esteban Marín-Ávila, discussing Husserl’s conception of philosophy as a rigorous science and its influence on his axiology and ethics. Marín-Ávila tackles the problem of Eurocentrism in Husserl with candor, refusing to dismiss it as an idle charge yet at the same time insisting that a Husserlian ethics, as elaborated in works like the Crisis, have much to say to non-European peoples. Husserl’s unfortunate writings on the impossibility of European peoples “Indianizing” themselves are referenced here, as well as his apparent belief that the achievements of Europe were such as to motivate a kind of rationally motivated mimicry in all other peoples of the world. Marín-Ávila ends with an affirmation of transcendental phenomenology that sees it as an already critical discipline capable of leading us toward a philosophy that matters.

Philosophy of Science

The sixth division of the text takes up Husserl’s work on the philosophy of science. We begin the division with Marco Cavallaro’s text which attempts to outline Husserl’s theory of science and posits a distinction between pure and transcendental phenomenology. Cavallaro sees ”pure” phenomenology as related to the project of a theory of science and transcendental phenomenology as related to ultimate epistemic foundations. Cavallaro is quick to point out this distinction is not made explicitly by Husserl. Jeff Yoshimi is the first in this collection to focus on the deepening field of phenomenological psychology. In this chapter we encounter Husserl’s main contemporary psychological influences (Wundt, Stumpf, Brentano, Dilthey). Yoshimi wants to link phenomenological psychology with transcendental phenomenology, phenomenological with empirical psychology and finally phenomenological psychology with philosophy of mind. One might misconstrue this as an effort to naturalize phenomenology, but it seems Yosimi is after a much more Husserlian move—establishing a transcendental dimension in the philosophies of mind and cognitive science. David Carr’s contribution looks to history as a science and its relation to phenomenology. This piece has pedagogical value as a general introduction to philosophy of history as well as an example of good Husserl scholarship. Carr helps us to see history as a study of the natural attitude in temporal development. Carr’s important Husserlian claim is that in the Crisis phenomenology takes on a decidedly historical character, for it is here that Husserl makes of philosophy as such a human endeavor with a history. The proper description for the historical a priori is something, Carr reminds us, Husserl struggled with until the very end. We are once again in full view of Husserl as a philosopher forever unsatisfied and unwilling to yield to his own limitations. The final contribution on the philosophy of science is Harald Wiltsche’s text on physics. Wiltsche quickly contextualizes the early twentieth century as a time of great upheaval in the sciences, noting above all others the arrival of relativity theory and quantum theory as fundamental disruptions to the way we view the world. He associates these shifts with changes in dominant philosophical discourses. Wiltsche shows that while Husserl himself may have demonstrated limited interest in the cutting edge physics of his day, in the person of a one-time student, Hermann Weyl, Husserlian ideas found their way into the scientific mainstream. Wiltsche also, rightly, points out that the discursive divide between analytic and continental philosophy is still far too robust today, despite our best efforts to pretend its dissolution a thing already achieved.

Metaphysics

The final division of the text is devoted to metaphysics. We may find the inclusion of these chapters strange because, as Daniele De Santis points out, Husserl’s relationship to metaphysical philosophy is all-too-often taken for granted. If for no other reasons (and of course there are other reasons) the chapter is useful in that it contributes to the literature refuting the charge that Husserl is a naive metaphysician of presence. De Santis is a systematic thinker whose penetrating Husserl scholarship attempts to make the development of the metaphysical in Husserl something clear and useful for scholars. Claudio Majolino takes on the Herculean task of mapping Husserl’s ontology. The difficulty, as Majolino points out, is that Husserl is so vast and many of his works have ontological elements and implications. Majolino’s work here—using Burnyeat and Aristotle to seek out contours of Husserl’s ontology—is too original for a few lines in a review such as this. The chapter is worth serious study. Timo Miettinen’s contribution begins with a general introduction to the theme of teleology, moving quickly to a detailed exposition of the place of teleology in Husserl’s phenomenology. Miettinen notes the importance of genetic method in exploring the development of experiential structures demonstrating immanent teleological character. This means that early static analyses of teleology were not sufficient given the temporal requirements of goal-directed experience. Miettinen also, here, deepens our understanding of Husserl’s alleged Eurocentrism, responding to an accusation by Derrida that, Miettinen shows, relies on a crucial misreading. One unresolved question in the chapter is whether and how all of Husserl’s teleological descriptions can be subsumed under transcendental phenomenology. The final chapter of the final section of the book is Emiliano Trizio’s paper on teleology and theology. Trizio, more than any other scholar in this compilation, is concerned with Husserl’s investigations of the nature of God and what they can do to deepen our phenomenological understanding. For Trizio, God is a necessary theme of phenomenology. Trizio shows how theology fits within Husserl’s overall phenomenology. And, finally, Trizio develops a non-objectivist reading of Husserl’s most theological passages.

Concluding Remarks

Having commented on these contributions, we are left dizzied by the depth and variety of Husserlian concern. Beginning this review, we confronted two basic questions. The first, Why Husserl?, asks us to assess Husserl as a thinker today. The second, What for Husserl can philosophy do?, is a refinement and extension of the first. What perhaps a collection like The Husserlian Mind gives us is the scope to determine, for ourselves, the answers to these questions. At the very least, we have within these pages the first lengths of many different paths one might take through the mind of Edmund Husserl and accordingly through philosophy as such. In so doing, we can discover for ourselves the value of great minds and the philosophies they make.

Bibliography

Adorno, Theodor W. 1993. Hegel: Three Studies. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen. MIT Press.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

———. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1973. Experience and Judgment. Translated by James Spencer Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.


[1] Adorno (1993: 109).

Ian Angus: Groundwork of Phenomenological Marxism: Crisis, Body, World

Groundwork of Phenomenological Marxism: Crisis, Body, World Book Cover Groundwork of Phenomenological Marxism: Crisis, Body, World
Continental Philosophy and the History of Thought
Ian H. Angus
Lexington Books
2021
Hardback $155.00 • £119.00

Reviewed by: Talia Welsh (University of Tennessee Chattanooga)

Introduction

Ian Angus’ Groundwork of Phenomenological Marxism: Crisis, Body, World is not a light book, both literally and figuratively, at 537 pages of dense analysis of two of the most discussed thinkers in the last few hundred years. Not many contemporary works have tried to integrate Marxism and Husserlian phenomenology. While perhaps everything in the life of the mind is ultimately connected, the project laid out by Husserl and that by Marx seem to point in quite different directions with very different methodologies. Subsequent works by famous thinkers who were influenced by both, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Herbert Marcuse, and Jan Patočka, did not seem to penetrate deeply into the scholarship of the side they are less famous for—that is, contemporary theorists of Marx do not go to Merleau-Ponty to discuss Marx, nor do phenomenologists routinely discuss Marcuse. Angus’ book truly does provide a groundwork to facilitate more work that does not neatly subsume the thoughts of one thinker under that of the other. While Angus notes his main textual supports will be Husserl’s Crisis and Marx’s Capital I, he also embraces a range of scholarship.

One generic challenge to phenomenology is that it struggles to critically engage with complex structures in our societies that exceed examination from the first-person perspective. Perhaps we are not just molded by our social, cultural, economic, and historical place in time, perhaps even what the idea of subjectivity is itself merely a momentary reverie and thus there is no ground from which to properly phenomenologize. A generic one to the Marx of Capital I-III is that the force of his understanding of capitalist logic creates a world in which things are happening with or without individual investment. We are all swept up in the force of history. Not only does the critic point out what Marx thought would come from capitalism has not transpired, but the idea of a self-enclosed system that will either end in ruin or revolution seems to ignore the manifold possibilities that have arisen, for better or worse, as capitalism spreads over the world. While both critiques can of course be argued against as misrepresntations, I bring up these challenges as a way to situate Angus’ impressive text as taking seriously both the analysis of capitalist logic as well as the importance of subjectivity. I read him as arguing that one can do a critical phenomenology in a capitalist world without reproducing bourgeois sentiment in a new form. In particular, his use of the idea of fecundity, ecological thinking, and Indigenous thought help explore places where capitalist logic fails to entirely dominate the lifeworld and places from which we might consider a robust contemporary phenomenological Marxism.

Overview of the Book

Part I: Phenomenology and the Crisis of Modern Reason & II: Objectivism and the Recovery of Subjectivity

In the first two chapters, Angus lays out the crisis of the modern sciences in order to set the ground for his later discussion of the lifeworld. The crisis of the sciences frames the entry into Husserl’s phenomenology and its relevance for the integration of Marx’s work. Husserl asserted that the crisis of the sciences is that they have become abstracted from their origin in human life, and thereby lost their meaning for humanity. The development of the modern sciences initiated the institution of the mathematization of nature. While mathematization of the modern sciences is not called into question as wrong, Angus notes that the issue becomes when the mathematization becomes “sedimented” and sciences assume “their validity has become an available tradition that further researchers use without investigating.” (43) Sciences thus use their symbolic systems, such as mathematization, as if it were full of human value even though it, by necessity, is abstract from human meaning. If we come to assume that only that which is objectively demonstrable by mathematization is “real,” then we are adrift in a world with reality devoid of meaning. The human world of intuition, tradition, sensuous nature, language, culture, and embodied experience cannot be mathematized. When objectivity found from abstract mathematization becomes “true” and subjectivity mere opinion, we find a crisis of reason. “This is the crisis: reasonproceeds without meaning for human life, while value loses its sustenance in reason.” (46) Angus says that the “healing power of phenomenology” is how phenomenology can uncover this historical sedimentation of mathematical reason and recover value.

Chapters three takes up the idea that one aspect of the crisis is the instrumentalization of the lifeworld. To begin, Angus uses Herbert Marcuse’s discussion of Husserl and deepens the manner in which the crisis of the sciences affects the lifeworld. Marcuse, like Husserl, is concerned with the manner in which instrumental reason cancels out the validity of subjective experience. What Angus draws out is how Marcuse draws attention toward the way in which the lifeworld becomes, under the reign of instrumentalism, merely a thing to be used by various techniques and technologies. It is natural to use technologies and associated technical practices to obtain ends; it is only when we have no other means to think of our lives that they become “emptied out.” “The emptying-out that treats a type as a formal ‘x’ removes the technical end from any relationship to other ends as experienced in the lifeworld and theorizes it strictly formally, that is to say, without any consideration if such an end is valid, good, or just.” (101) If human life is merely how we can as living objects use technologies and techniques to obtain certain pre-determined ends, say more money, more production, we merely become things. Moreover, we become things that cannot determine value ourselves since we are seen only as a means to a pre-determined end.

In chapter four, the discussion of technology is drawn into the 21st century. Angus considers how our contemporary digital technological culture is an extension of the instrumentalization of the lifeworld. While digital culture pervades our lives and determines the character of our self-understanding, we do not actually experience the digital itself. We receive information on our computers, tablets, and phone instantaneously (120). Here Angus develops briefly the idea about the importance of silence and delay which will be more developed in chapter nine. As digital culture transmits its information instantaneously, we have no space from which to take a pause from it given how quickly we are presented with new content. Yet, while the lack of any pause or delay can cover up the capacity for bracketing the digital, Angus states that “this absorption can never be complete” for the subject registers this information with a certain “intensity” or “valence” that is dependent upon other investments within the lifeworld (125). These other investments can produce a delay or lack of circularity of the system of digital culture and thus potentially ground a recovery of reason and value.

Chapters five develops further how value is both lost and potentially can be recovered and draws Marx into the picture to understand how abstract labor separates us from value. We do not encounter things in the lifeworld as value-free and then intellectually add value to them some x-value. Such a move would follow from the model that the instrumentalization of the lifeworld suggests. We have both social valuations that come from a determinate time and culture as well as subjectively personal valuations based on our own experience. Here Angus connects Marx and Husserl, reading both as concerned with the manner in which formal sign-systems are unable to address individual objects of value (139). In commodity fetishism, social relations are systematically concealed, similar to how in a “scientific” view of objectivity, one is unable to return to the value that grounds subjective experience. Moreover, because the system of exchange is hidden in object fetishism, self-knowledge is eluded. “This systematic absences of self-knowledge in social action is reproduced in an apologetic scientific form in political economy such that it produces a systematic lack in the social representation of value.” (143) Angus believes in the value of self-knowledge, but also importantly in the idea of a universalization that will permit escape from both a valueless scientific or economic system and from value being relative to particular cultures. In the fourth part of the book, this idea is sketched out more fully.

Part III: The Living Body and Ontology of Labor

Chapters six and seven productively develop stronger connections between the phenomenological project and the Marxist one. One the most developed discussions coming out of phenomenology’s approach to experience is developments that surround the consequences of understanding ourselves as first and foremost living bodies. We do not first consider the world consciously and then judge it, but are first born into a complex cultural, historical, and economic world and our embodied experiences with that world come to shape our judgements by sedimentation, not by conscious deliberation. Hence the lifeworld is not seen as “a” lifeworld, but simply what is, including the values and norms that our society has educated us in to see certain things as real or valuable when it might be just as conceivable that others things might be more deserving of value.  The living-body is “the root-experience of the lifeworld” but we are always being with other beings; we are always part of a human, not just an individual, experience. (157) Angus separates out two features of our shared human experience: the positive “we-subjectivity,” the community in which we live, work, and commune with others, and the other and self as “objects” that either benefit or hinder any individual project (157).

Angus then turns toward Marx’s ontology of labor as the foundation of what it is to be human and what shapes human history. Certainly we need labor to live, but Marx argues that labor is also how we constitute our identity and the world in which we live (162). In Husserl’s work, the living body’s motility grounds subjectivity and Marx’s ontology of labor helps develop one way in which this subjectivity is formed. Angus agrees with Jan Patočka and Ludwig Landgrebe that early Marx’s view on labor lacked, unlike Husserl’s, a full account of subjectivity. However, as Angus will point out the Marx of Capital I presents us with a more complex view of labor. Here we see the sketch of much of the rest of the book—how an ontology of the lifeworld, in particular labor and its relationship to subjectivity, permits an understanding of the structures of that world. In order to connect the ontology of the lifeworld to a phenomenology of the living body, what Marx would call a critique, one must go beyond the “evident” nature of the lifeworld to question its current form and status.

Marx’s mature ideas of an ontology of labor as “a phenomenology of the role of human activity in nature” will shape much of the rest of the section’s discussion (180) While largely sympathetic with Marx’s focus on labor, Angus argues that Marx’s interest in technology as history determining cannot make sense without a better account of the surplus productivity of labor that allows such technology to form itself. I think it beyond the scope of this review to examine this critique—that is, is it really the case that Marx failed to understand the necessity of surplus productivity’s relation to nature?—but rather to take Angus at his word, and examine the interesting idea of fecundity that Angus will develop throughout the remainder of the text (187). The logic of capitalism of collecting commodities to be exchanged can appear to have circular and enclosed perspective. We work to produce things that can be sold to obtain money to buy or produce other things, ad infinitum. One can think here of Hannah Arendt’s dismissive view of labor as this endless need of human work to survive without the possibility of anything new coming from it, other than more survival and thus more labor. Angus writes that what actually happens, and what can be thought to perhaps undermine the capitalist project, is that labor exceeds what is needed to complete the next circuit—what is “the fecundity of nature.” (187) Here one is too reminded of Michel Foucault’s interesting ideas of how any regime of power/knowledge creates subjectivities that are not just docile, but also then have the means to creatively exceed that structure. Later Angus will develop the idea of fecundity to argue for an interesting ecological view of our current situation. Herbert Marcuse’s work helps underscore the emancipatory possibilities inherent in human activity outside its insertion merely into the logic of capitalism as labor. The event of any human activity is not subsumable entirely to the motivation that preceded it. One example is that the excess that labor can create produces not just things for survival, but culture as well. Culture then creates new forms of organization that exceed strict capitalist production.

Chapter eight is one of the densest chapters in the book. It takes up the idea of abstraction and its relevance for labor and value and concludes with how to revive value in the lifeworld. Abstraction in Marx’s theory is complex, there is the abstraction where individuals are only understood as significant insofar they play a role—say laborer or capitalist. Abstraction can also be where one analyzes the core features of capitalism and sets aside the actual concrete form. In this sense, abstraction comes close to a phenomenological reduction. Finally, there is abstraction in the sense of addition—“When we consider any only single factor, such as labor, there are a number of historical and imaginary, or logically possible, forms in which that labor could be organized: capitalist, trial, state, cooperative, etc.” (237) This groundwork lays the foundation for the most important abstraction in Marx’s text, to be later complemented by Angus’ formulation of abstract nature: abstract labor. Abstract labor is not illusory, it is real in the that is produced in the system of exchange of commodities. Workers, as individuals, are now just understood in abstraction as nothing but laborers qua commodities—things that can be bought. The commodity hides the relationship between humans, we do not encounter or know those whose products we purchase hence we tend to assume the value lies within the product—what is commodity fetishism. Laborers themselves becomes a thing as their labor-power is just another unit of exchange. Moreover, abstract labor operates as value—abstract labor has a certain value in the system of exchange and can be taken without consideration of the particular work the laborers are performing. As Husserl wrote about in the Crisis, one consequence of modern science has been the mistaking of the method of mathematization for actual truth and meaning. Marx’s understanding of the abstract labor likewise performs this move in a system of value (256). If only abstract labor is considered valuable, one has lost any footing the real world of humans, as individuals and also as communities in their culture and their history.

The lifeworld is able to recover reason as the place in which one can situate the historical nature of abstract labor and account for how its excess cannot be contained within capitalist reason. Excess productivity produces culture and also draws from the fecundity of nature which is never completely exhausted by capitalism. Nature, individuals, and communities produce excesses but given the particularities of the concrete spaces in which such productivity exists, there is no “unitary source” and thus they do not produce uniform products. Hence, “the proletariat has never acted as a unitary subject as Marxist politics has expected.” (277) Angus develops from this work on abstraction to an idea of abstract nature as critical to his phenomenological Marxism, pointing out that Marx, by not having a concept of abstract nature, is unable to explain just what abstract labor is to be performed upon. Briefly, Angus points toward ecology as a way exit the limitations of capitalist and modern scientific thinking and integrate nature and humanity. “The task of transformation would be to recover nature as the source of meaning and value, human labor as the giving of a specific form to that source.” (286) Ecology works from the connections between nature and cultures and can provide a method to get beyond our reductionistic thinking.

Technology is the theme of chapter nine which develops further the way in which the regime of capitalist value homogenizes production. While Marx and Marcuse’s views on technology are important to underline that there is no simple nature unchanged by humans nor humans apart from technical extension, it is Gilbert Simondon’s work permits us to consider our contemporary lifeworld more fully. Simondon is critical of Communist Party Marxism, arguing that the development of more technological societies with machines as central to production creates a particular kind of alienation where “both the worker and the industrial boss are alienated insofar as they are either above or below the machine.” (303) Hence, some Marxist views of technology as liberating are false. Angus draws our contemporary situation as another crisis because contemporary digital culture “approaches a pure transparency without delays or silences that could initiate emergent meaning” as discussed in chapter four (319). The speed of transmission of information and the lack of spaces in which to not be presented with such information reduces the capacity for the kind of productive excess that permits a possible exit from capitalist logic. One striking feature of our own society dominated by the capacity to share on the internet is how information is exploited much like physical labor. Cognitive capitalism is “neo-mercantilist” as a socio-economic form with the important element of “decay”—that is, the value of the digital form reduces over time (324). Thus, new digital products have a very short lifespan where they produce surplus profit and must be constantly produced by tech workers. As with his earlier discussion of technology, Angus argues that instead of transforming such digital spaces, “the struggles of the working class in such industries would not necessarily be to transform them as such, but to exist to become an independent, self-defining enterprise.” (324)  Technology itself does not liberate workers if they do not have the means to define its value.

Chapter ten lays the groundwork for the recovery of the concrete grounds from which to critique the mathematization of science and the abstractions of capitalism. Husserl himself celebrated biology in its connection to the living body as a means to connect the lifeworld in experience and the sciences of life. However, Angus points out that, as Marx shows us, bodies can be abstracted in labor and creates a closed system of understanding bodies that does not permit a true phenomenological investigation. Angus’ idea of abstract nature is added to this critique in order to point out that it is not just labor, and thus humans, that are abstracted in capitalism, but nature as well. Angus writes, “abstract nature if the fundamental critical category of our phenomenological Marxism that can be counterposed to the discovery of natural fecundity as an excess that underlines all human productivity and culture.” (345) Again, Angus draws attention to ecology as a way of thinking since it considers the connections between life-forms and the worlds in which they live, something biology does not do. This is a concrete starting place instead of the abstraction required by the sciences or capitalism and can think of communities instead of only abstract systems.

Part IV: Transcendentality and the Constitution of Worlds

Chapter eleven and twelve deepen Angus’ ideas of the phenomenological project and the need for an intercultural self-responsible phenomenology. Emphasizing the intersubjective nature of any lifeworld and the plurality of them helps underline how the need for the phenomenological view to complement Marx’s work. In Marxist thought, there is the tendency to see subjectivity as rather uniform amongst classes. Angus takes up the question if Husserl’s commitment to seeing Europe as central makes phenomenology not just Eurocentric, which I would think is hard to deny, but also fundamentally invested in an implicit view of European superiority. Angus develops a fascinating perspective on America, here understood as the Americas, rather than simply the United States, as the kind of example that makes any kind of European view limited. America is not a repetition of Europe; America is shaped by the “conquest-disaster” of its origins as well as by the Indigenous traditions and thoughts that also continue to shape it. The conquest-disaster begins “an ongoing institution that remains with us to this day and points toward some sort of resolution of final goal (Endstiftung). We live within this institution and its assigns us a task.” (399) The task is to see this lifeworld as it is, not as Europe’s, but with its own shape and demands. Angus argues this broader view of the historical nature of cultures helps expose the need to respond not just to the scientific and economic crises, but also to our “planetary crisis.”

This planetary crisis refers to the reason understood as technology that is based on formal-mathematical science as the origination of crisis and phenomenological reason as the renewal of meaning and value through a recovery of relation to the lifeworld. Meaning and value must be generated, not simply from looking back to prior institutions, but from events constituted by the planetary encounter of culture-civilizations that motivate an appeal upward on step toward great universality. (403)

What is needed is intercultural-civilizational understanding that moves toward universality. This might seem a bit strange, after all typically calling for greater intercultural understanding can be seen to call for something particular and non-universal. Angus develops not a particular kind of universality, say something like “Europe,” that should be taken as the goal, but rather a certain kind of community living together. While we live in a world saturated by calls for cultural understanding, one might rightly see them as a kind of buffet model—a little of this one and a little of that. This can be seen as how scientific-technological civilization renders all traditions as local and particular to the universality of its enterprises, so culture becomes like a disposable addition upon “real” understanding which is of course that which can be reduced to either scientific models or capitalist logic. This can also be seen as expressed, in a much different fashion, in relativist philosophies where one can affirm the other, but is left in without any means of overcoming differences. Angus takes up an approach where what the phenomenological tradition can guide for intercultural understanding is by pursuing not a “truth” that then can add various cultural views, like clothing, nor a set of discrete truths which cannot communicate, but a center-periphery logic where different assumptions in culture-civilizations can be upended by each other in discourse and attention to practices. Angus looks to build:

A philosophy that would be ecological, in the sense that it would focus on the concrete relations that construct a Whole; that would be Marxist, in the sense that is would criticize a social representation of value that relies on commodity price; and that would be phenomenological, in that it would ground value in the lifeworld in action and intuition, is a possibility that would enact this hope. (441)

Chapter thirteen spells out just what intercultural-civilization phenomenology could be. By using place-based knowledge, such as Indigenous thought, we can displace the tendency of planetary technology and capitalism to homogenize by abstracting individuals and nature. Like ecological thinking, Indigenous thinking starts from relationships and from thinking from community instead of thinking of individuals first. Yet of course, any community might not be compatible with another, so in order to move from the value of community to the kind of universal investment needed to combat the crises of our age, Angus appeals in chapter fourteen to Charles Taylor’s notion that “each cultural group can find its own reasons for belonging in a higher unity, that the reasons do not have to be identical for each group.” (453). Hence, the intercultural dialogue would consider crises that face us all, but not require that each group form a new identity but rather that each group understand their share and investment in the problem. The final chapter of part IV considers how philosophy can work to restore the fecundity of nature, of human labor, and of community investment. Natural fecundity is found not “outside” human experience in the environment as a thing, but rather within a cultural heritage’s manner in which it takes up freedom. Indigenous thought and ecological thinking help show ways in which cultural heritage and cultural understanding are not limitations to “proper” science or economic systems, but important ways in which to understand relationships and value.

Part V: Self-Responsibility as Teleologically Given in Transcendental Phenomenology

The final section of the book develops the idea that philosophy in the manner outlined above cannot be first and foremost about rule-following. After all, if we are to take seriously intercultural dialogues and the heritage of communities, we cannot find a common set of ethical rules that must guide them all. Moreover, any lifeworld unexamined appears to us “how it is” and thus its “rules” are unexamined as they seem natural. The separation of meaning and value caused by the mathematization- mechanization of the world by the modern sciences and the forced abstraction of humans from their bodies and nature in capitalism requires both an analysis of its origins as well as a responsible call to action to try and guide a method for the renewal of meaning and value. Angus appeals to the idea of responsibility as a method of living by inquiring. “Self-responsibility is the ethic of philosophical inquiry and its practice in confronting the rule-following inherent in lifeworld practices.” (489) This is both a responsibility toward humanity and to the individual. Angus finds that Husserl remains too embedded in the tradition of knowledge “for its own sake” and thus remains unable to articulate a call to action. Instead, learning should be drawn into the strife of the world “with eyes wide open” and to search for justice. (499)

Conclusion

In the preface to the French edition of Capital I, Marx chides the “French public” who are “always impatient to come to a conclusion” that they might not wish to labor through the early chapters. However, he writes “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.”[1] While I have nothing to say about if this characterization of the French public of 1872 is deserved, I do want to qualify my comments below as that perhaps they are testimony more to my challenges with the book’s steepness than the text itself. No book can serve all possible audiences, but I did wish the book were more readable for someone who was versed in one or the other tradition and curious about the possible connections. As it is, I would find it quite challenging for someone to read who didn’t already have a good command of Husserl’s phenomenology and at least an understanding of the critique of capitalism in Marxist thought. While Angus does provide an extremely detailed discussion of the main points he wants to draw from each, and thus this could act as a kind of summary, he does not explain for the reader the general frame in which to understand these very detailed summaries. This is particularly so for the phenomenological discussions. I cannot see someone who was well-read in Marxist thought making much sense of the phenomenological project herein since the discussion assumes a certain understanding of phenomenology’s language. I could imagine a reader unfamiliar with Marxist thought, but familiar with phenomenology understanding better the discussion of abstract labor and nature, so central to the book, since capitalism so defines our current reality and even someone who has not read Marx would be familiar with the idea that there might be problems with capitalism.

I wonder if the book began not with Husserl’s thought, but instead with a shorter discussion of ecology that appears very late in the text. This would provide a kind of framework and directionality to the text in which to work through the crises of science and labor. While the ultimate longer analysis of ecology rightly should follow his analysis at the end of the book, any reader would be familiar with our current environmental crisis and could help understand that this book would help elucidate this crisis and provide some ideas for action. In addition, more framing of phenomenology’s method might aid in reaching a wider audience. I also wondered at the conclusion, so exclusively considered with phenomenology where it would have seemed to my mind obvious here to appeal to the call to action in Marxist thought. In the discussion of communities, one could also think not just of communities qua historical cultures, but also communities such as labor unions, political groups, and religious groups.

However, this is a “groundwork” not an introduction to phenomenological Marxism and as such perhaps it is a text that is rightly directed toward an audience who can follow its density and read further as need be. It is a welcome addition to our intellectual life and provides an important way in which to address the manifold contemporary crises our world faces. In particular, Angus presents a compelling model wherein we engage with Indigenous and community-based thinking not to simply affirm the “otherness” of this thought, but to see it as an important interlocutor with European phenomenology and Marxism. The crises we face are not culturally located, but planetary, and as such require a universalizing, but not totalizing, response.

[1] Karl Marx. 1976. Capital Volume I, 105. London: Penguin.

Mauro Antonelli, Federico Boccaccini: Franz Brentano: Mente, coscienza, realtà, Carocci, 2021

Franz Brentano: Mente, coscienza, realtà Book Cover Franz Brentano: Mente, coscienza, realtà
Frecce
Mauro Antonelli, Federico Boccaccini
Carocci
2021
Paperback 21,85 €
264